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SHERIDAN — Nearly 30 people met Wednesday to discuss a variety of projects in the Goose Creek Watershed, a 418-square-mile area that encompasses Sheridan, Big Horn, surrounding ranchland and a portion of the Bighorn National Forest west of Sheridan.
The Goose Creek Steering Committee is open to anyone interested in protecting the watershed, which includes Big Goose, Little Goose and Goose creeks in Sheridan County.
It has been active since 2003 and represents a partnership between the city of Sheridan, Sheridan County, the Sheridan County Conservation District, the Forest Service, county residents, ranchers and more.
“One of the things that is always really exciting about these meetings is the amount of expertise that a lot of the individuals, agency officials and landowners bring to the table. There’s so much knowledge out there that it just helps us do our job better,” SCCD District Manager Carrie Rogaczewski said.
Sheridan County Public Works Director Rod Liesinger and County Planner Mark Reid updated the committee on the county’s efforts to improve water quality in the watershed.
Liesinger said in the past three years since the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality partnered with the conservation district to establish water quality targets, the county has issued more than 40 permits to repair or upgrade septic systems in the watershed. Degraded septic systems can leak bacteria into the watershed.
While 40 projects in three years may not appear substantial, every little bit helps.
“Bacteria is a moving target,” Rogaczewski said.
As such, attacking bacteria from a variety of angles is crucial. The conservation district has funding available to help with a variety of improvement projects such as septic system upgrades, moving corrals and fences to keep livestock away from the creeks and more.
Reid noted that the planning department continues to implement tools to promote healthy waters. These include conservation subdivisions that designate at least 70 percent of their land as permanently protected open space, stream setbacks for properties developed after 2010 and flood plain regulations that have an indirect positive effect on the watershed.
City Engineer Lane Thompson said the city continues to utilize a $250,000 grant to do concentrated testing during storms, run-off and dry periods on the creeks in Sheridan, seeking specifically to pinpoint areas where bacteria are entering the streams. The city hopes to monitor three more sites this year and two or more in 2015.
City Utilities Division Manager Dan Roberts updated the committee on the Watershed Control Plan, which pairs clean water and drinking water concerns in one program under the idea that whatever happens in the watershed impacts a city’s drinking water.
Roberts said Sheridan is one of three pilot sites in the country for this type of program. Phase one of the plan — characterizing the watershed — is complete, and phase two — establishing best management practices — is underway. The plan will likely adopt practices used by the forest service and is expected to be complete in June.
Rogaczewski updated the committee on the rain garden project in front of the Downtown Sheridan Association building on the corner of Main Street and Coffeen Avenue. The project was implemented as a demonstration of ways to capture run-off water before it can enter nearby creeks.
Rogaczewski said the program had to overcome several hurdles and that the SCCD isn’t ready to implement improvement programs for residential run-off until further study is complete.
• The Sheridan County Conservation District will hold steering committee meetings for the Tongue River watershed at 6 tonight at Ranchester Town Hall, and for the Prairie Dog Creek watershed at 6 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Prairie Dog Community Center, 702 U.S. Highway 14 seven miles east of Sheridan. The public is invited to attend.
Anyone wanting more information on funding or technical assistance for water improvement projects in Sheridan County should call the SCCD at 672-5820, ext. 3.