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Wyoming officials call for better water conservation practices amid drought conditions

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(Screenshot courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor)
Most of Wyoming’s is facing either abnormally dry conditions (yellow) or moderate drought (pink). Parts of the western and southeastern regions of the state are experiencing severe (red) or extreme (dark red) drought.

Officials in Jackson sent notices last month asking property owners to cut back on water use following a record-breaking July for the town’s pumping system, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Carlin Girard, Executive Director of the Teton Conservation District, said collective action can make a massive difference.

“If one person makes a change, it doesn't matter. It's a mass of people making a change that results in an effective mitigation strategy,” he said. “Water reduction is certainly one of those examples.”

In particular, Girard points to landscaping as an area that could be improved. He said simple changes, like planting native vegetation in your yard or cutting and watering your lawn less frequently, can save precious aquifer resources.

“Some of the landscape watering that we're doing is just wasteful,” Girard said. “There's no excuse for it.”

A rainy summer has been helpful for reducing local drought conditions, but it doesn’t replace a recent string of dry winters with relatively low snowpack, according to Girard. Aquifers and groundwater are replenished during the colder months when evaporation is less likely, and poor irrigation practices during the summer pump precious resources that could be used in the future.

“I think we have a lot of work to do in Northwest Wyoming in particular to really rein in excessive use of natural resources,” Girard said.

Girard also said his advice could be extended to other parts of the Cowboy State. Rawlins users have been asked to cut back in recent months, in part due to infrastructure issues. And Southeast Wyoming is currently facing “severe” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Because long-term drought is likely for Wyoming and the rest of the West, Girard said it’s not a smart move for any location to overuse what they have. Wyoming declined to make any cuts recently amidst negotiations over the future of the Colorado River Basin’s water resources.

“The way that you give yourself the best chance of not running into a catastrophic problem, of not over-utilizing an aquifer or damaging an infrastructure system, is by being conservative in the way you use it,” said Girard.

Will Walkey is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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