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Natural Resources & Energy

$1.2M is headed to a water conservation and drought resilience program in Wyoming

A sprinkler irrigation system on a green field.
Jeroen Komen
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Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) WaterSMART Initiative has partnered with the Bureau of Reclamation's (BOR) WaterSMART Initiative for about 10 years to help farmers and ranchers conserve water and build drought resilience. The NRCS recently invested $21 million in the partnership to increase the effectiveness of the program in the west, and just over $1.2 million of that is going to the program in Wyoming.

"Through the partnership between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART Initiative, we can coordinate investments in areas deemed to be in greatest need," said Wyoming's state resource conservationist with NRCS, Andi Neugebauer. "This helps to improve our overall impact in water conservation and drought resilience."

According to Neugebauer, the BOR's WaterSMART Initiative helps repair things like irrigation infrastructure, whereas the NRCS's WaterSMART Initiative focuses more on working with producers to improve their irrigation practices. Their partnership in Wyoming will help focus the two initiatives in the same area.

"The Bureau of Reclamation would get an application from an irrigation district that maybe has a pipeline that's leaking terribly or an old canal that needs replaced. And so instead of us working somewhere else that has aging infrastructure that hasn't been addressed, we can then tie in to that same project area, and it really just makes a much bigger impact for water conservation and also drought resilience," said Neugebauer.

By repairing irrigation infrastructure and improving irrigation practices, less water is lost to things like leaky infrastructure or evaporation, making irrigation more efficient.

"If an irrigation district has 1,000 acre feet of water that it manages, and their pipeline leaks 50 percent of the water, then the irrigators are only going to get 500 acre feet of water to irrigate with and not only have we just lost a bunch of water, but it causes drought stress to the plants," said Neugebauer. "They can't grow as much of their crops that they expected to grow, and so sometimes that means they have to go somewhere else. And if they have a livestock operation, they might have to buy hay, they might have to buy corn. And so it puts financial stress on that producer as well as drought stress on those plants."

Neugebauer said Wyoming has three priority areas for developing drought resilience in: Washakie, Park, and Big Horn counties. Anyone interested in the program can contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office.

Corrected: December 20, 2021 at 11:42 AM MST
A previous version of the story stated that all $21M will go to Wyoming. That is the total amount that will be going to the partnership in the west. $1,280,000 will be going to the Wyoming initiative.
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