Chugwater Creek, a tributary to the Laramie River, is in the North Platte River Basin of Wyoming. The creek originates along the eastern side of the Laramie Mountains and then flows northeast to its confluence with the Laramie River near the town of Wheatland. WDEQ classifies Chugwater Creek as a type 2AB water; thus, it is protected for the designated uses of drinking water, coldwater game and nongame fisheries, fish consumption, aquatic life other than fish, recreation, wildlife, industry, agriculture and scenic value.
Monitoring by WDEQ in 1998 indicated that a portion of the stream was not supporting its aquatic life and coldwater fisheries designated uses because of excess sediment from unknown sources. The fine sediments (Figure 1) settled and created a homogenous and highly unstable substrate for bottom-dwelling aquatic animal and plant communities. The 10.4-mile mainstem of Chugwater Creek showed a marked decline in the diversity and abundance of pollution-sensitive aquatic macroinvertebrates as compared to upstream study sites. Because of those findings, WDEQ added the creek to Wyoming's 2000 CWA section 303(d) list as threatened because of excess sediment loading.
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A stakeholder group including local landowners, the local irrigation district, Platte County Resource District, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and Pheasants Forever adopted numerous BMPs to reduce sedimentation. The new BMPs complemented other BMPs that landowners had previously installed. New BMPs included adding riparian fencing to facilitate a shorter duration grazing strategy in the stream corridor, moving a feedlot away from the stream channel (Figures 2 and 3), constructing an upland reservoir to capture and reuse excess irrigation water, and converting from flood to sprinkler irrigation to reduce surface runoff.
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In 2005 a technical review team—consisting of water quality, geomorphology, range science and soil science experts—investigated the condition of Chugwater Creek. The review team concluded, in part, that BMPs had helped to stabilize streambanks, which allowed vigorous re-growth of riparian vegetation. Overland flow and sedimentation in the stream had decreased substantially. Corresponding with those changes, the stream channel had deepened, which would allow for the gradual removal of historic sediment deposits. Vegetation was taking root in the creek's point bars. On the basis of the assessment, WDEQ determined that the BMPs had effectively removed the threat of sediment to Chugwater Creek's aquatic life and coldwater fisheries uses. Therefore, WDEQ removed 10.4 miles of Chugwater Creek from the Wyoming 2008 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters for sediment.
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Partners and Funding
Funding for this project totaled $38,168 for a riparian improvement project involving landowners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
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Platte County Resource District
Figure 1. Before restoration, lower Chugwater Creek's streambed was silt-dominated, as seen here.
Figures 2 and 3. These photos show the proximity of a feedlot to Chugwater Creek's riparian zone before (above) and after (below) the project. The creek flows along the base of the mountains in the background.