WY:Johnson County drought: streams at lowest level in 30 years

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Johnson County drought: streams at lowest level in 30 years

BUFFALO, Wyo. (AP) - Streams in Johnson County are at their lowest levels in 30 years and farmers are hurting. "This has been a super-dry year," Mike Whitaker, a division superintendent in the state engineer's Sheridan office, told the Buffalo Bulletin.

Statewide, available surface water is down 25 percent, said John Barnes, state surface water administrator.

"The guys who are in real trouble are the guys that rely on direct flow," he said, those who depend on mountain streams rather than man-made ditches.

Snowmelt runoff is about 50 percent below normal in the Big Horn Mountains of north-central Wyoming, and streams and stock ponds are drying up.

"There's been a pretty good indication that a lot of the farmers and ranchers are selling off their herds, or at least reducing them in size," Barnes said.

Worland and Riverton cattle sales especially have been up, he said, because ranchers don't have enough quality pasture or water to feed their livestock.

In Johnson County, the drought is moderate to severe, according to the federal government's U.S. drought monitor.

Whitaker said this is the first year in recent memory that irrigators have been regulated, which means people who have senior, or earlier, water rights get first priority. Those with later rights may get little or no water in dry years as water managers shut off headgates on streams and ditches.

Despite the conditions, everyone has been cooperating, he said.

"Most of the people have been here long enough that they know what their water rights are," Whitaker said. "If somebody new comes in, sometimes we have to spend a little time educating them."

If someone does take water they are not entitled to, "That's their problem and it's a civil matter, not ours," he said.

On the Net:

Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service: http://www.nass.usda.gov/wy

U.S. Drought Monitor: http://enso.unl.edu/monitor


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 23, 2001

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