A year to grow onNov 18, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Ag producers basked in mild growing season that only ended recently
Wet weather this year helped irrigation districts in Fremont County deliver water to users, but the moisture was especially crucial to people without reservoirs.
"The river was strong, so we did really well," LeClair Irrigation District manager Bobby Lane said.
Operating without reservoirs, the LeClair only can draw water from the Wind River. The district has an allotment, but the Wyoming State Engineer's Office can increase or cut back how much LeClair can take, depending on how much water is flowing.
The LeClair was able to draw more than normal for most of the year, Lane said. For much of the 2015 growing season, the LeClair district drew 250 cubic feet per second from the Wind River.
"The water was available, so they let us take it," Lane said.
May in Fremont County saw much more precipitation than normal, and the water came down over a long period. The National Weather Service measured 4.6 inches of precipitation in May at Riverton Regional Airport, or 265 percent of normal, making it the third-wettest May on record.
The month had seven days of thunderstorms, about 20 days of rain, and four days of snow.
The moisture helped the larger Midvale Irrigation district as well, though the district's reservoirs made the precipitation less critical.
"When we get high precipitation like we did, we can utilize the flow in the river and not have to tap into our storage," Midvale Irrigation District manager Jon Howell said.
Midvale's reservoirs insulate the district somewhat from fluctuations in precipitation from year to year. Midvale can store water in two reservoirs - Bull Lake and Pilot Butte. The district irrigates about 73,000 acres using 400 miles of canals.
The district was able to store water over the winter, and that water helped it meet its obligations to its users, Howell said.
Midvale allocated 3 acre-feet of water to users and was able to meet all orders, he said.
"There were a lot of people who had adequate rainfall to irrigate, and they didn't even need to order water during that period," Howell said.
The amount of water the district delivered was fairly typical.
"It varies every year, but that's pretty close to what it's been the last three water seasons," he said.
Midvale shut its water off Sept. 25. LeClair turned its water off Oct. 9. Both managers said those dates were typical for their systems.
Irrigators always keep an eye on water for next year, but neither Howell nor Lane knew what to expect yet from this year's snow pack.
After the wet spring months pass, most of the water in the Wind River comes from melting mountain snowpack. As such, precipitation in the winter is critical.
"I'm hoping Mother Nature gives us a good snow pack, and I'm hoping we have a good year," Lane said.
Howell echoed the uncertainty.
"I can't say that it's going to be great, and I can't say it's going to be bad," he said.
"The water level that we ended up with in our storage is fairly typical for this time of year so there's no reason for me to be alarmed at this point."