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The Sheridan Community Land Trust releases their first water supply report

Sheridan Community Land Trust photo of two girls examining a rock in a stream
Sheridan Community Land Trust

The Sheridan Community Land Trust (SCLT) recently released their first monthly water supply report from the results of a survey that they conducted earlier this year. It included getting feedback from members of the community who are interested in water, drought, and getting information about these topics.

“It basically pulls together a bunch of existing resources about water supply and different things that affect water supply in Sheridan County,” said Lila Walker, SCLT water intern and Big Sky Watershed Corps member. “[It] sort of brings it all together and puts it in a place that's easy for everyone to access quickly instead of having to search to find everything on your own.”

The report comes as the first in what is slated to be a regular series that analyzes the hydrological conditions in the county. Records and statistics were gathered from agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that conduct research and publish data on water conditions. The report was also looked over by several members of the community that have knowledge of the local situation prior to it being released publicly.

“Lila basically found a whole bunch of different resources, where if you're trying to predict, especially if you're trying to look at and base management decisions of how much water is available, [and] pulled together a lot of these sources,” said Meghan Kent, Conservation Program Manager with SCLT. “That’s going to include reservoir levels in the area, that's going to include streamflow, it's going to include precipitation, temperature, and for the most part, we're providing both the current conditions, so what you're actually seeing.”.

Kent added that the report gives a great forecast for future water levels. The SCLT report indicates the drought conditions have improved in Sheridan County overall, though approximately half the county is still listed in a state of drought. Much of Wyoming is also still listed in such conditions as well.

“In Sheridan County, we've been seeing improvement throughout the year, especially compared to last month, we've had some removal of drought,” Walker said. “The bigger Wyoming picture is sort of variable. There's some different factors with local rains being locally pretty good in Sheridan and not as good in other places in Wyoming.”

The survey, which was conducted from April through June of this year, indicated that 78 percent of respondents were concerned about drought but only 55 percent viewed water quality as a problem in the county.

“We put [it] out basically [asking], ‘With water quality, where are you at? What could be helpful to you?’ And based off that input is where we started to create this drought report,” Kent added. “We still have a box where people in the community can give us feedback on what's useful to them, what they'd like to see in future editions.”

Additional survey findings indicated that 57 percent were not sure if enough was being done to prepare for drought while less than half felt knowledgeable about it. Kent said that after analyzing the survey findings, it became clear that more publicly available data was needed on local water and drought conditions.

The report was funded in-house, though there may be options for outside resources to be utilized for future reports.

“The water supply report that's being put out, that's completely funded by the Sheridan Community Land Trust,” she said. “We're certainly open to funding partners with projects moving forward. I think that there's a lot of room to grow in terms of a water program here. We are lucky Lila comes to us through the Montana Water Corps program, so that has helped us expand our capacity, although it's not exactly a funding opportunity there.”

So far, there have been approximately 60 people in the county that have signed up for future SCLT water reports, including those that Kent previously thought would not have necessarily been interested in water and drought.

“We hope that having this report will help us start having conversations with the community about their needs and fears,” Walker added. “I think that this is sort of one of our ways that we're hoping to begin asking those questions and finding collaborative ways to work on that and where we as land trusts can be of use in that worry and sort of being proactive about preparing for that instead of waiting for it to happen.”

Even with an improvement in the local conditions, there remains general concern about water in the region.

“I think it's no secret that water is becoming a more and more valuable resource, especially out here in the west, so it's less about how people are using water and more about what tools they could use to inform those decisions or to make different decisions,” Kent explained. “What do they wish they could do, but they can't quite do yet, is more along those lines of the survey.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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