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«A proposal to the Integrated Research, Education, and Extension Competitive Grants Program— National Integrated Water Qua lity Program (NIWQP), ...»

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Conservation of surface and ground water in a Western watershed experiencing rapid loss

of irrigated agricultural land to development

A proposal to the Integrated Research, Education, and Extension Competitive Grants Program—

National Integrated Water Qua lity Program (NIWQP), U.S. Department of Agriculture,

Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service

Project Director

Robert W. Van Kirk

Department of Mathematics and Environmental Systems Graduate Program

Humboldt State University Arcata, CA 95521 Project 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. Furthermore, changes in water withdrawal, conveyance and use have altered ground-surface water interactions, exacerbating conflicts among users. To achieve NIWQP watershed-scale objectives to develop water conservation strategies, promote effectiveness of such strategies, and train the next generation of water professionals, we propose a research, extension, and education project in the Henry’s Fork Snake River watershed that 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 distribut e 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 model of surface and ground water flow will be constructed from existing hydrologic data and measurements of stream and canal gain/loss and will be calibrated to traditional irrigation management conditions. This model 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.

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CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………………………...2 Population Growth and Collaborative Watershed Management in the “New” West……..3 Study Area………………………………………………………………………………...4 Previous and Ongoing Research and Management Activities…………………………….8 Project Team………………………………………………………………………………9 Stakeholder Involvement in Identifying Project Need…………………………………...10 OBJECTIVES……………………………………………………………………………………12 Research………………………………………………………………………………….12 Extension………………………………………………………………………….……...12 Education………………………………………………………………………………...12 METHODS………………………………………………………………………………………13 Stakeholder Involvement………………………………………………………………...13 Methodology by objective………………………………………………………………14 Objective 1. Hydrologic model development…………………………………...14 Objective 2. Identification of water conservation mechanisms…………………15 Objective 3. Preparation and dissemination of educational materials…………..16 Objective 4. Development of water conservation and management strategy…...17 Objective 5. Experiential training for an interdisciplinary team of students……17 Project Deliverables……………………………………………………………………...18 Potential Pitfalls and Limitations………………………………………………………...18 Project Evaluation………………………………………………………………………..19 TASKS AND TIMETABLE….……………………………………………………………...….19 REFERENCES

INTRODUCTION

Conflicts over water use in the arid and semi-arid Western United States date back to the 19th century. Early in the settlement of West, conflicts occurred over uses for mining and agriculture.

The socioeconomic institutions that were developed to manage these conflicts include the prior appropriation doctrine, cooperative investment in water infrastructure, federal programs designed to develop the West’s water resources, and government agencies charged with measuring, storing and delivering these resources (Reisner 1993, Fiege 1999). By the middle of the 20th century, irrigation became the dominant use of water in the West, accounting for over 90% of total water withdrawals and consumptive use in most rural watersheds. Although conflicts will always occur between junior and senior water rights holders in a prior appropriation system, traditional mechanisms of apportionment and delivery of surface water served agriculture well from the 1940s through the 1970s, in part because of a favorable combination of factors including low human population densities, relatively stable climate, and little demand for other uses. Since the late 1970s, however, these traditional water management practices have been unable to meet the needs of irrigation, let alone other uses, in the face of requirements for environmental flows (e.g., Kenney 1999), increases in ground-water withdrawal (e.g., Johnson et al. 1999), and changes in climate (e.g., Service 2004, Mote 2006). Currently, rapid population growth in the West is

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Population Growth and Collaborative Watershed Management in the “New” West Over the past three decades, the population of the rural West has increased substantially, as people seek a higher quality of life, which includes scenic beauty, access to public lands, and opportunities for outdoor recreation (Johnson and Rasker 1995, Riebsame et al. 1996, Rudzitis 1999, Frentz et al. 2004). Although a number of researchers have investigated the consequences of population growth to ecological processes and conservation (e.g., Theobald et al. 1996, Hansen et al. 2002, Gosnell et al. 2006), most of this work has focused on terrestrial ecosystems and landscape conservation rather than on aquatic ecosystems and water conservation.

Conversely, most research into the ecological consequences of human use and management of water resources in the West has focused on the effects of dams and water withdrawal associated with traditional uses (e.g., Collier et al. 1996, Richter et al. 1997, Rood et al. 2003) and not on the effects of population expansion into irrigated regions. Concurrently, sociologists have investigated the theory that newcomers to rural areas place a higher value on environmental protection than do long-term residents and thus that “green migration” of new residents can result in greater support for conservation of natural resources in rural areas (e.g., Jones et al.

2003). In the West, discussion over the legitimacy of this theory has often been framed as the “cows versus condos” debate, in which the relative consequences to environmental quality are weighed between a traditional ranching/farming landscape and one dominated by exurban development, albeit one perhaps inhabited more environmentally enlightened residents (e.g., Wuerthner 1994, Knight et al. 1995). In at least some areas of the rural west (including the Teton Valley within the proposed study area of this project), long-time residents are actually more likely to support limits to population growth, maintenance of traditional land uses at the expense of economic growth, and protection of environmental quality than are newcomers (Smith and Krannich 2000). Preston (2005) has taken this observation a step further by likening immigration into the rural West to the fable of the charmed goose—people move to the rural West because of its natural amenities, but development associated with this immigration results in degradation of the very amenities attracting the new residents. Although natural amenities can include water and aquatic resources, this inclusion is often implicit rather than explicit, and theories of both sociological and ecological consequences of rapid population growth in the rural West have rarely been applied to effects on traditional irrigation systems and conservation of aquatic ecosystems.

Given the emphasis placed on effects of population growth on land use and terrestrial ecosystems, it is ironic that the social institutions generally considered most successful in addressing natural resource management conflicts in the West have grown up around water issues. Watershed councils and other collaborative, stakeholder-driven groups have proliferated in the rural West, providing alternatives to government decision- making in management of water resources (Kenney 1999, Lant 1999, Weber 2000). Success of watershed councils in implementing changes on the ground can be hampered by limited participation, lack of regulatory authority, and restricted funding availability (Griffin 1999), but such councils have 3 generally been successful in facilitating collaboration and cooperation among water resource managers and stakeholders, including irrigators, government agencies, and fish and wildlife conservation interests (e.g., Van Kirk and Griffin 1997). It is likely that watersheds with wellestablished collaborative processes will be better equipped than those without such institutions to address the challenges to water management posed by rapid population growth. Addressing these challenges, however, will require successful incorporation into the collaborative process of new stakeholders such as developers, new residents, and county planners.

Study Area

The upper Snake River basin, Idaho and Wyoming (Figure 1), provides an excellent geographic context within which to study the effects of population growth on water management in a landscape historically dominated by irrigated agriculture. In terms of total amount of water withdrawn, the upper Snake irrigation system is second within the U.S. only to California’s Central Valley. The system includes nine major storage reservoirs with a combined capacity of over 4 million acre- feet. About 6.5 million acre-feet of surface water and 1 million acre- feet of ground water are withdrawn annually within the basin and applied to 2 million irrigated acres.

The basin also contains world-renowned recreational trout fisheries and other scenic and recreational resources in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It is these resources— primarily those associated with the headwaters of the Snake River—that have fueled rapid population growth in the region. Within the upper Snake River basin, the Henry’s Fork watershed (Figure 1) is ideal for a watershed-scale project aimed at developing water management strategies under conversion of traditionally irrigated agricultural land to development for three reasons: 1) it is experiencing rapid population growth on irrigated lands,

2) it supports some of the most unique and important fisheries, aquatic and wetland resources in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Van Kirk and Benjamin 2001, Van Kirk and Gamblin 2000, Noss et al. 2003), and 3) it has a watershed council with a 15-year record of success in facilitating collaborative water resource research and management. The Henry’s Fork watershed is often cited as a model of innovation in natural resource management (e.g., Preston 2005). This high visibility, combined with the existence of well-developed collaborative institutions in the watershed, results in a high probability of not only achieving the goal of developing a water conservation strategy within the watershed but also of attaining the larger goal of extending methodology and results to other Western watersheds experiencing rapid population growth.

The 3,200-square mile Henry’s Fork watershed is located in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming (Figure 1). About half of the watershed’s area is federal land, including a portion of Yellowstone National Park. Elevations range from 4,500 feet at the southwest corner of the watershed to over 10,000 feet in the east. Major mountain ranges include the Teton, Big Hole, and Centennial ranges. These mountains are the oldest geologic formations in the watershed, which is otherwise dominated by volcanic features created between 4 million and about 600,000 years ago as the Yellowstone hot spot moved northeastward through the region (Hackett and Bonnichsen 1994).

The Madison and Pitchstone plateaus (Figure 1) were formed by the most recent rhyolite eruptions of the hot spot and host large aquifers that discharge a nearly constant 450,000 acrefeet of water to the Henry’s Fork upstream of Ashton (Whitehead 1978, Benjamin 2000).

4 Figure 1. Location of Henry’s Fork watershed within the upper Snake River basin (top), and watershed map (bottom). Light-colored areas in the top map represent irrigated lands.

5 Mean annual temperature and precipitation, respectively, range from about 42 °F and 12 inches at the lowest elevations to less than 33 °F and over 40 inches cm at the highest elevations.

Precipitation is nearly uniformly distributed throughout the year at the lowest elevations but is characterized by a large early-winter peak at the higher elevations. The vast majority of discharge in the watershed’s streams is derived from snowfall at elevations greater than 6,000 feet. The higher elevations of the Henry’s Fork watershed lie in the Middle Rockies ecoregion;



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