Every year, spring runoff can create a lot of damage to landowners from bank erosion and flooding. Producers and ranchers who are based on the Tongue River have turned to the Tongue River Watershed Steering Committee, the Sheridan County Conservation District and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for help picking up the pieces after Mother Nature causes havoc.
The Tongue River Watershed is a project area from which staff quantifies existing pollutant loads from previous monitoring efforts, develops estimates of the load reductions required to meet water quality standards and develops effective management action items to reduce pollutant loads.
The project’s efforts are funded in part by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.
SCCD staff complete a three-year basis on each watershed: Prairie Dog, Goose Creek and Tongue River, according to Jackie Carbert, SCCD’s program specialist. Over the course of three years, staff monitors temperature, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, bacteria ecology and conductivity over the course of 10 days each year Carbert said.
“These are the barometers around the state that upholds water quality and they are just tests we’ve been doing since 1996, the beginning of the watershed projects,” Carrie Rogaczewski, SCCD district manager said. “We’ve decided on tests that were easy to collect and easy to collect well to provide something accurate.”
One area that experts continue to keep an eye on in Wyoming is levels of bacteria.
“Our main issue of concern from a regulatory standpoint is a problem based on Wyoming state standards is bacteria,” Rogaczewski said. “The problem with bacteria in terms of being able to see a nice little arrow of improvement is that bacteria is generally has a lot of variability just in and of itself.”
Levels of bacteria can be varied from type of runoff, temperatures in the stream, an animal walking through the stream near data collections, Rogaczewski said. Based on reflections and load reduction calculations, the SCCD has seen levels of improvement in levels of bacteria in the Tongue River Watershed.
Andrew Cassiday, district conservationist with the Sheridan Natural Resources Conservation District, said the tests help narrow down issues even if the tests are hard to draw a black and white answer.
“With initial assessments you’re able to rule out a number of other concerns with this basis of parameters,” Cassiday said.
In each three year basis, staff works with local residents and stakeholders along each watershed to provide a plan that will help repair damage to the river and to adjacent land.
“It’s been a resource that identifies concerns whether it is water quality or if it’s other things that aren’t indicated in monitoring, but observations and anecdotal evidence that landowners have,” Rogaczewski said. “That’s a piece of the project we’ve always wanted to include; what are the concerns, issues, goals and plans that need to be put in action?”
Staff began monitoring the Tongue River Watershed Project in May, but the runoff was so high they were unable to test due to unsafe conditions four different times out of nine so far. They lost two seperate monitors due to the water conditions, thus needing to relying on landowners for observations along the Tongue River.
As SCCD staff begin analyzing data from this year’s water runoff, they have began analyzing needs that they can assist with.
“Currently there are issues that are focus areas in our plans that fit the criteria for funding our programs in order to assist the implementation or best management practices limitations on the landscape scale which establishes our funding priority,” Cassiday said.
The SCCD and the NRCS have aided each other when trying to lend a helping hand to local landowners. When one program needs help with a project development plan, the other program provides help. When one program cannot fit a project under the criteria for funding, the other program can create some financial wiggle room for the other.
While bacteria concerns continue to exist without any substantial evidence of improvement, collected data is useful for prioritizing projects and efforts as conditions change on adjacent land.
SCCD will continue to monitor water quality until October.
Previous projects and monitoring results can be found on the SCCD website.