Water conservation

Natural Resources Conservation Service invests more money in its WaterSMART initiative to build resilience to drought


USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) WaterSMART Initiative has partnered with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) WaterSMART Initiative for about 10 years to help farmers and herders conserve water and build resilience to drought. The NRCS recently invested $ 21 million in the partnership to increase the effectiveness of the program in Wyoming.

“Through the partnership between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART Initiative, we are able to coordinate investments in areas considered to be most in need,” said Andi Neugebauer, Wyoming State Resource Conservator at NRCS. “This helps improve our overall impact on water conservation and drought resilience.”

According to Neugebauer, BOR’s WaterSMART initiative is helping repair things like irrigation infrastructure, while NRCS’s WaterSMART initiative focuses more on working with growers to improve their irrigation practices. Their partnership in Wyoming will help focus the two initiatives in the same area.

“The Bureau of Reclamation would receive a request from an irrigation district that maybe has a terribly leaking pipeline or an old canal that needs to be replaced. And so instead of working somewhere else with aging infrastructure that hasn’t been treated, we can then connect to that same project area, and that really has a much bigger impact on water conservation and also on drought resilience, ”said Neugebauer.

By repairing irrigation infrastructure and improving irrigation practices, less water is wasted for things like leaky infrastructure or evaporation, making irrigation more efficient.

“If an irrigation district manages 1,000 acre-feet of water and its pipeline is leaking 50% of the water, then irrigators will only have 500 acre-feet of water to irrigate and not only do we just losing a bunch of water, but it causes water stress for the plants, ”Neugebauer said. “They can’t grow as much of their crop as they hoped, and so sometimes that means they have to go elsewhere. And if they have a livestock operation, they might have to buy hay,” they may have to buy corn. And so it puts financial stress on that grower as well as water stress on these plants. “

Neugebauer said Wyoming has three priority areas for building drought resilience in Washakie, Park and Big Horn counties. Anyone interested in the program can contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office.