Protecting source water

WRWA holds informational workshop to better educate public on water protections


November 27, 2019

Wyoming Rural Water Association held a recent workshop on source water protection.

The workshop held on Wednesday, November 20, was led by Michelle Christopher of Wyoming Rural Water. She started off by reminding everyone that water is life and protecting our waters benefits us. The goal of the workshop was to discuss the importance of not only protecting water but also to brainstorm ideas on how to educate people. A steering committee will be created to facilitate an effective source water protection program. 

At one time, the town of Saratoga drew its water from the North Platte river. Treating the surface water proved to be time consuming and expensive, so the town switched to a system of wells. The wells are in the North Park Aquifer not the shallower Alluvium.

“You have some pretty good wells, so whatever we can do to protect it would be the pertinent thing to do,” said Christopher.

She showed the workshop participants maps of the recharge zones around the wells. 

A recharge zone is the surface area surrounding an aquifer from which water in the form of precipitation or surface water replenishes the groundwater stored in the aquifer. The first zone is the immediate 50 feet around the well and is considered the most critical as the surface water travels quickly to the aquifer from here. Christopher cautioned, “Obviously, don’t change your oil, don’t dump fuel, limit pesticides and limit activities as much as possible within this 50 foot radius”. While the area around the wells is fenced off, monitored and ‘No Camping’ signs put up, there have been instances of people camping in this area.

The second zone has about a 2 year time of travel for contaminates to reach the aquifer. Pesticide use and human activities should be limited. The use of pesticides is a concern in any of the recharge zones. Hydrologically, Wyoming is not mapped very well since it is sparsely populated. Its aquifers are not understood at a very high level, so well statistics are relied upon. The US Geological Survey has monitoring wells around the area to sample water and test for pesticides. They do have a website for more information (see Fortunately, Saratoga’s wells are surrounded by BLM lands.

The steering committee will have to provide the BLM with the water protection plan so they can include it into their resource management plans. If it is included in their plan, then activities such as development and mining can be adjusted.

The third zone is about a four mile radius from the wells. Within this zone it takes approximately 5 years for water to reach the aquifer. Christopher cautioned that improperly installed and maintained septic systems may leach e-coli and nitrates into the ground. E-coli can be treated but nitrates are hard to remove and they are toxic to children. Nitrates in drinking water may lead to blue baby syndrome (methemoglobinemia), a condition which prevents oxygen from being released into the tissues and result in hypoxemia.

A concern was shared from an attendee regarding the building permit process. A Department of Quality (DEQ) permit is required before a building permit is issued. If a potential builder does not obtain the DEQ permit first and trying to get a building permit, the current practice is to tell them to obtain the DEQ permit and turn them away. The concern is that the potential builder will think the process is too complicated and just go ahead and build without a permit. Currently there is no repercussion for building without a permit. The builder only needs to obtain a permit after the fact if they are caught.

A suggestion was made to issue the building permit noting that there is no DEQ permit. This way, there would be a record of who the builder is and where they are building so that follow up can be done to ensure that the DEQ permit is obtained. The Wyoming Department of Quality does have a website that explains the permit process

Other suggestions made for the steering committee to consider include working with commercial septic haulers or Realtors on educating customers about their septic systems, promoting ‘Know Your Well’ day on March 13th and the fact that there are free water sampling kits available at the district office.

“Our goal is to have a sustainable community in a long term system,” said Christopher. Getting agencies talking to each other, working on public education and documenting the water we have will go a long way towards that goal of keeping our waters safe for generations to come.


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