water

Brandenburg/Minden Pictures/Newscom

Researchers at the University of Wyoming are studying a weather modification technology that may increase snowfall, called cloud seeding, to see if it can help with droughts.

In June of 2002, nearly half a million acres burned in the Arizona high country. At the time, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire was the largest wildfire in the state’s history. There was too much fuel in the forest, a buildup that began more than a century ago. Enough people saw the record-breaking fire and agreed that something needed to be done to prevent the next big fire.

On the side of a rocky hill in Sheridan County in northern Wyoming, Brain Mealor is showing off all of his weeds.

“Here, let me grab a cheatgrass so you can see it, too,” he said, plucking a wispy sprig from among the grasses. “They all kind of look the same this time of year.”

Mealor is the director of the University of Wyoming’s Research and Extension Center in Sheridan. He’s performing experiments on how to manage and kill invasive annual grasses, like cheatgrass, ventenata and medusa head, with herbicides.

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

This summer’s record-breaking wildfires have reduced some of those headwater forests to burnt trees and heaps of ash. In high alpine ecosystems, climate change has tipped the scales toward drier forests, lessened snowpack, hotter summers and extended fire seasons.

Major wildfires have burned through the Western U.S. in 2020, breaking records for their scale and damage. As firefighters tamp down their immediate effects, those who live nearby are coming to grips with the lingering danger of wildfires. Even long after the flames are gone, residents face a serious increase in the threat of flooding.

National Park Service hydrologist Erin White likes to call Yellowstone “America’s first water park.”

It’s home to the headwaters of multiple major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls. Thousands of geysers, mudpots, and hot springs—heated by an underground supervolcano—gush, bubble, and boil in the national park’s 2.2 million acres, too.

Drought.gov

A $48 million project will fund climate monitoring stations across the Upper Missouri River Basin in five states, including Wyoming.

Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.

That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.

Bernard Spragg

A study by the Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the current water levels in the Colorado River Basin will only postpone water shortages.

K Kendall

Most of the West has been experiencing drought this year. Bart Miller, with the environmental group Western Resource Advocates, said that the water levels we are seeing this year are nothing new.

Mitch Tobin/waterdesk.org

The water has made development possible and is used for farms, homes and businesses. Meanwhile, recreation has risen to over 4 million annual visitors in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with tourists bringing in over $420 million to local communities.

Courtesy of Crow Creek Revival

Restoring a critical source of water in Cheyenne has been the goal of many in the area for several years. And that revival effort for Crow Creek just got another significant boost in funding.

As water becomes more scarce in the Mountain West, a new analysis finds that a surprising amount is being used to raise cattle.

Ivy Engel

A lot of the water that Wyomingites drink comes from the same source: the Casper Aquifer. In many areas, the aquifer is deep underground. Though in some areas where the water source surfaces, it can be a source of major controversy.

It was a dry start to the year for some mountain ranges in the region, but recent storms brought most Mountain West snowpack levels back to normal.

 


Bern Hinckley

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, Albany County Commissioners voted 2 - 1 to change the zoning on a piece of land near the Casper Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone (APOZ) from residential to commercial.

Wikipedia via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Albany County Commissioners voted on Thursday, Jan. 2, to extend the temporary moratorium that prevents building on the Casper Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone (APOZ) by 90 days.

USGS

The Wyoming State Engineer's Office recently heard a proposal to drill eight high-capacity water wells in Laramie County, and now 17 ranchers and farmers in the area are protesting.

Tested well locations around Pavillion
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) confirmed its 2016 findings that Pavillion, Wyoming's groundwater contamination is not connected to oil and gas activity.

It released a 4,228 page report Monday that dug into questions remaining from the previous version in 2016. The department used improved technology to dive into its past findings and ensure there wasn't some critical compound or bacteria missed.

The West’s water security is wrapped up in snow. When it melts, it becomes drinking and irrigation water for millions throughout the region. A high snowpack lets farmers, skiers and water managers breathe a sigh of relief, while a low one can spell long-term trouble.

EPA

Water issues in the West have been around, basically, since the West was claimed and divvied up. And they haven't really let up since, which was on full display in the Environment and Public Works Committee this week.

Charlie Craighead

Scientists at the University of Wyoming wanted to know how fish fare in streams near energy development. Their results were recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and paint a picture of how human disturbance and less water can crunch the habitat that some fish need to survive and thrive.

A report out this week shows a significant number of Americans don't have access to basic services like running water. And many of the places that lack plumbing are in the Mountain West.

“Small pockets of communities without complete plumbing exist in every state,” write the researchers, who also say the gap isn’t driven by people who choose to live off-the-grid, but instead by a lack of basic infrastructure. 

The Environmental Working Group on Wednesday updated its Tap Water Database, which aggregates data from nearly 50,000 water utilities across the country to spotlight dangerous levels of contamination

Reservoirs can get messy after a big wildfire. The issue isn’t the fire itself, it’s what happens after. 

Savannah Maher

Earlier this summer, the Northern Arapaho Tribe came out against a proposal by the energy company Aetheon to discharge oilfield waste upstream of the Wind River. But the opposition was not for the reasons that some tribal members would like.

Roads Less Traveled

Multiple energy industry trucks have crashed on a stretch of mountain road between Laramie and a booming energy field in Jackson County, Colorado. The trucks spilled fracking fluids and diesel into a nearby creek; one driver was killed.

Catherine Wheeler

On a sunny and warm Friday in Northeast Wyoming, Levi Jensen and I drove east on Highway 51 out of Gillette.

Eric Barnes

For the last four years, Green River and Little Snake River basin ranchers have been getting paid not to irrigate in late summer to conserve Colorado River water. But the pilot phase of the program is now over. The next step is developing the technology to measure how much water is actually saved.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Construction on the Fontanelle Reservoir won't get started until extreme drought strikes because officials say the unfinished bottom won't be accessible until then.

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