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Conservation of Surface and Ground Water in Western Watershed Experiencing Rapid Loss of Irrigated Agricultural Land to Development

Investigators
Van Kirk, Rob
Institutions
Humboldt State University
Start date
2008
End date
2011
Objective
The project seeks to meet, at the watershed scale, NIWQP goals of developing water conservation strategies, promoting effectiveness of those strategies, and training the next generation of water professionals. We will pursue these goals in the Henry's Fork watershed of eastern Idaho and western Wyoming, where conversion of traditionally irrigated land to non-agricultural uses is presenting new water conservation and management challenges to irrigators, water managers and aquatic resource conservation agencies and organizations.

The project objectives are: 1) develop quantitative models of ground and surface water flow pathways and use under historic, current, and anticipated future water/land use scenarios; 2) identify economic, regulatory, and physical mechanisms that will a) encourage water conservation and b) facilitate efficient water management on developed lands; 3) prepare and distribute to decision-makers, planners, and stakeholders educational materials describing the watershed's hydrologic system and water conservation benefits and strategies, 4) facilitate development by the Henry's Fork Watershed Council of a water conservation and management strategy to increase water availability for agriculture while enhancing ecological benefits in key stream reaches; and 5) provide experiential training to an interdisciplinary team of environmental science graduate and undergraduate students.

During the first year of the three-year project, we will engage stakeholders in a process of identifying information and extension needs related to the project goals and collect and compile the hydrologic and geographic data needed for hydrologic modeling. During year two, we will develop the hydrologic models, apply them to potential future land/water use scenarios, and begin creation of outreach and extension materials that will be used to communicate modeling results and water conservation/management methodologies to user groups. In the project's final year, we will facilitate the Watershed Council's development of a water conservation and management strategy and disseminate this strategy and tools for its implementation to water users and stakeholders.

The project will result in changes in knowledge and changes in actions. The former will include enhanced knowledge of water budgets and flow pathways in the watershed and new information on water management challenges faced by both traditional and new water users. Changes in action will occur upon implementation of specific water conservation/management tools identified in the strategy developed by the Watershed Council.

We hope that these actions will ultimately result in increased water conservation, more efficient management of water resources, and fewer conflicts among user groups in the years following project completion. The students participating in the interdisciplinary team will receive experiential training in the physical and social aspects of water management, present their work at professional meetings and in peer-reviewed papers, and be prepared to enter a professional position in water resources science/management or continue their studies at the doctoral level.

More information
Non-Technical Summary: Rural watersheds throughout the West are experiencing rapid replacement of irrigated agricultural land with suburban, exurban, and resort development, resulting in increased water demand and alteration of traditional irrigation practices. Accompanying changes in water withdrawal, delivery mechanisms and use patterns have altered interactions between ground and surface water, resulting in lowered ground water tables and increased conflict among water user groups. The Henry's Fork Snake River watershed in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming provides an excellent example of a watershed in which conflicts over water use are resulting from rapid conversion of traditionally irrigated land to development. This project seeks to develop water conservation strategies, promote effectiveness of such strategies, and train the next generation of water professionals in the Henry's Fork watershed. The project will 1) develop quantitative models of ground and surface water use and flow pathways under historic, current, and anticipated future water/land use scenarios; 2) identify socioeconomic and physical mechanisms that will encourage water conservation and efficient water management on developed lands; 3) prepare and distribute to decision-makers, planners, and stakeholders educational materials describing the watershed's hydrologic system and water conservation benefits and strategies; 4) facilitate development by the Henry's Fork Watershed Council of a water conservation and management strategy to increase water availability for agriculture while enhancing ecological benefits in key stream reaches; and 5) provide experiential training to an interdisciplinary team of environmental science graduate and undergraduate students. A computer model of surface and ground water flow will be used to predict future conditions under hypothesized land/water-use scenarios. Decision-makers and stakeholders will be involved throughout the project to ensure that project outputs meet their information needs, are disseminated effectively, and contribute to development of stakeholder-driven conservation strategies. In the project's final year, we will facilitate the Watershed Council's development of a water conservation and management strategy and disseminate this strategy and tools for its implementation to water users and stakeholders. The project will result in enhanced knowledge of water budgets and flow pathways in the watershed and new information on water management challenges faced by both traditional and new water users. Changes in action will occur upon implementation of specific water conservation/management tools identified in the strategy developed by the Watershed Council. We hope that these actions will ultimately result in increased water conservation, more efficient management of water resources, and fewer conflicts among user groups in the years following project completion.

Approach: The hydrologic model will be based on stochastic stream flow sequences derived from observed stream flow. Simulated inflow will be subjected to storage, withdrawal and loss to ground water, which will be obtained from existing data where available. We will collect measurements of canal and stream channel discharge to calculate gains/losses in ungaged reaches as needed. Model outputs will consist of stream flow at the major gage station locations and ecologically important stream reaches under natural (no water withdrawal), flood irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, and potential future land and water use conditions. Because the project is designed to address issues identified by watershed stakeholders and decision-makers, they will be active participants throughout the project. Stakeholders will be engaged through the Henry's Fork Watershed Council and through specific efforts to reach those who do not routinely participate in the Council. Beginning with stakeholders with whom we have already established relationships, we will use a snowball method to identify other key stakeholders. This method will result in a greater degree of trust and cooperation than blind sampling or large meetings. We will use interviews to investigate physical, economic, regulatory, and social mechanisms that could be applied in the watershed to promote water conservation and efficient management. In the final phase of stakeholder involvement, we will develop and disseminate educational and informational materials. Some of this information will present methods individual landowners can take to conserve water and help ensure efficient management of existing irrigation systems. Other information will include explanation of the basic hydrology and ecology of the watershed. Information targeting planners will include predicted effects of future development on water supplies. During the project's third year, we will devote three Watershed Council meetings to development of the water management strategy. The Council's consensus-based Watershed Integrity Review and Evaluation (WIRE) process will be used to develop that strategy. An interdisciplinary team (mathematical modeling, environmental resource engineering, natural resource planning and interpretation) of three master's students and one undergraduate student will carry out most of the work of the project, under the supervision of the project's key personnel. The graduate students will spend two summers in the watershed in order to gain practical experience. During their second summer, the students will design and lead the Watershed Council's annual field trip. The project will be evaluated by its success in: 1) providing decision-makers and stakeholders with an understandable model of the watershed's hydrology and a useful tool to evaluate the impact of various water management practices; and 2) facilitating development of a management strategy by the Watershed Council. At the end of the project, the Watershed Council will evaluate the project using its WIRE criteria.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
CALR-2008-03643
Accession number
215937
Categories
Predictive Microbiology
Prevention and Control
Policy and Planning
Education and Training