The Middle Fork of the Popo Agie is a hard-working river. First tumbling out of high country wilderness it drops 6,000 feet into the valley below, where it serves a wide range of users. Besides providing drinking water for thousands of people and a multitude of wildlife, it irrigates fields and provides recreational opportunities for anglers and others outdoor enthusiasts. As a focal point in Lander’s City Park, it’s also part of the Lander community’s identity. The problem is, by late summer, the river often slows to a mere trickle by the time it reaches the park – resulting in bacterial levels that pose a danger to public health. With the impact of climate change, the situation is only expected to get worse. But there is a solution.
Healthy Rivers Initiative
The Healthy Rivers Initiative is pulling together those who use the river to identify, develop and implement voluntary measures and best practices for managing water during times of low flows in ways that honor existing water rights.
For years, the Popo Agie Conservation District and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality have been gathering information on water quality and flows and trying to identify sources of bacterial contamination. The initiative team is gathering the additional information and resources and collaborating to find effective solutions for the future.
The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming has been an early partner on this initiative, helping build a foundation and find creative ways to address the thorny issues of water quality and low flows. As the initiative matures, we’ll be supporting it both financially and through our expertise and innovation. Our help will take different forms. We might finance basic improvements to irrigation systems, resulting in more water conservation. We could pioneer cooperative use agreements that compensate users for leaving water in stream. TNC is nimble enough to respond to opportunities as they develop.
It’s an all hands effort to protect and heal a river on which so many of us depend. And we’re all dedicated to its success.