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Weigh in on Wyoming’s Water Strategy

Upper Green River, Wyoming

Upper Green River, Wyoming

Recognizing the importance of water in Wyoming—and the fact that states throughout the West expect more frequent shortages of freshwater in the coming years—Governor Matt Mead is developing a statewide water strategy. There are 59 potential initiatives that resulted from numerous listening sessions hosted around the state last fall. These have been published and the state is seeking input from citizens to help narrow that number to just a few that will receive priority. Until August 4th, you can provide your input via four short surveys distributed by Governor Mead’s office.

The Outdoor Council believes Wyoming needs a strategy that ensures water is available to future generations, but also one that is farsighted enough to conserve the fish, wildlife, and other resources we enjoy today. That’s why we hope you’ll join us in (1) voicing opposition to two initiatives that would be especially bad for Wyoming and (2) supporting some of the better possible water strategy initiatives.

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Two Dam Proposals On The Upper Green River Would Be Bad for Wyoming

Although the state must identify ways to ensure the availability of future water supplies, the Outdoor Council believes water conservation and protection should be our focus.

New dam construction doesn’t make sense for Wyoming. Good dam locations are limited by geography and today the most viable locations have already been developed or are off-limits for good reasons. In fact, many states these days are dealing with the long-term problems of poorly sited dams and are now working to remove them. Yet, there are proposals in the Governor’s water strategy to build several new dam projects in Wyoming. We are most concerned about two large projects considered for the iconic Upper Green River: One near the headwaters of the Green, at the foot of the Wind River Range and the other at Warren Bridge, near Pinedale.

You can let Governor Mead know that you oppose these proposed dams by CLICKING HERE TO TAKE THE GOVERNOR’S WATER DEVELOPMENT SURVEY. You’ll be able to rank the Warren Bridge Dam Permitting and Green River Lakes Reservoir as well as other dam proposals as “not favorable” (1 on the scale). You can also send your own personal comments to the Governor’s Office until August 4th.

To read more about these proposals and the risks they pose to fish, wildlife, and iconic landscapes in northwest Wyoming, click HERE.

Several Initiatives are Worthy of Support

The Outdoor Council has highlighted four of several measures—these are the ones we proposed to Governor Mead during community listening sessions last year—that we believe are among the initiatives most likely to create a proactive, conservation-based water management strategy capable of adding security to the future of Wyoming’s resources. These include:

  • Unified Public Database — All water quality and quantity data should be available in a single location and database. This initiative would require legislative funding and guidance to bring all water and climate data from agencies on quality, quantity, surface and groundwater into a single database.
  • Groundwater Analysis and Control — This initiative would seek changes in rule or statute so that areas would automatically become Groundwater Control Areas if groundwater use outstrips recharge It would also result in cooperative studies, led by the State Engineer, to explore the agreements, assurances, regulations, and markets that can be leveraged to manage use and demand within the areas.
  • Temporary Use Protection Policies — This initiative would develop appropriate mechanisms to increase flexibility for temporary use transfers without the risk of a given water right holder losing his/her right. Temporary water use agreements can only be utilized for 4 years due to the risk of abandonment. This initiative would protect the original quantity and use for a longer duration as long as the short-term use was truly temporary and resulted in no harm to other users.
  • Credible Climate Weather and Stream Flow Data — Attention to climate and water will increase over time. In order to prepare for questions and challenges, Wyoming needs robust scientific data. This initiative would result in work to fund additional climate and stream flow data collection throughout the state.

Please help us by taking Governor Mead’s Water Management Survey and rating these four initiatives immediately above as “highly favorable” (10 on the scale).

You can view the rest of the possible initiatives here, where you’ll find other positive measures such as: Drought and Climate Variability Planning, Surface Water Recharge Areas (underground water storage), an Ecosystem Services Pilot, a Watershed Management Incentives Program, and a Major Conveyance Task Force Project (to repair leaking/malfunctioning/outdated irrigation infrastructure).

Please Help!

Your input can be given on each of the 59 possible initiatives by taking all four surveys, as well as by writing to the Governor’s office. Comment and survey responses will be accepted until August 4th.

 

 

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Dams On the Upper Green River Would Be Bad For Wyoming

Upper Green River, Wyoming

Upper Green River, Wyoming

The Wyoming Outdoor Council asks for your help in telling Governor Mead that new dams, particularly two suggested on the Upper Green River, are not the answer to water security in Wyoming and should not be a part of the final Wyoming Water Strategy.

  • Warren Bridge Dam Permitting would be an initiative to begin the permitting and planning stage for a large dam on the Upper Green River near the Warren Bridge. The structure would be capable of 50,000 to over 150,000 acre-feet of capacity.
  • Green River Lakes Reservoir would be an initiative to begin the exploratory agreement and planning phase for a large dam and reservoir, likely in excess of 200,000 acre-feet in capacity, on the Upper Green River near or inside the National Forest Boundary.

The Outdoor Council believes more secure water supplies will come with proactive management decisions that stem from access to good information and lead to greater water conservation and resource protection. Construction of new dams does not fit within that framework.

New dams on the Upper Green would negatively impact fish and wildlife populations, destroy riparian areas, impede necessary fish passage, block a crucial wildlife migration corridor, and degrade the river downstream of them. Dams would additionally encroach upon valuable livestock grazing lands and popular hunting and fishing grounds.

Impacts to Wild and Scenic Qualities

The upper 41 miles of the Green River (from its source above Green River Lakes to the Forest boundary) have been determined by the Forest Service to have “outstandingly remarkable values” for designation as a Wild and Scenic River (USFS, Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Evaluation, Bridger-Teton National Forest). Building a dam near or above the Forest Boundary would degrade this quality.

Fisheries Habitat

Significant impacts would occur to fisheries habitat from flooded riparian areas, increased water temperatures, and decreased dissolved oxygen levels. Higher water temperatures pave the way for toxic events such as algal blooms, which further drive down dissolved oxygen levels as the organic matter decomposes, that ultimately result in “dead zones” where fish and other aquatic life cannot survive.

Migration Corridor

Map Courtesy of The Wildlife Conservation Society

Map Courtesy of The Wildlife Conservation Society

Especially notable, is that the river corridor of the Upper Green provides a regionally important migration route for wildlife, particularly for pronghorn that winter in the Upper Green River Basin and migrate north toward Jackson for the summertime (USFS, Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Evaluation, Bridger-Teton National Forest). The path that the pronghorn take along the Upper Green River travels through both suggested dam sights and is part of one of the longest large mammal migration corridors in North America. The section where the Green River Lakes Reservoir would be located is known as “the funnel” of the migration corridor. This is where a narrow water gap was created by the Green River and where pronghorn numbering in the hundreds must travel each spring in order to make their way further north. Damming this area would impose yet another obstacle, a likely impassible one, for a vital migration route already threatened by oil and gas development further south in the Upper Green River Basin. If this happens, pronghorn will likely disappear from valuable places such as the scenic Grand Teton National Park (“Pronghorn Migration on The Path of the Pronghorn,” Wildlife Conservation Society).

Downstream Impacts

Additionally, downstream from either of these suggested dams, the Green River itself as well as other existing dams would continue to see impacts.  Dams are finite structures and cannot function in perpetuity. As the river velocity decreases approaching a dam, sediment and debris naturally carried by the river are dropped resulting in siltation at the mouth of the reservoir. Siltation is an inevitable occurrence and will eventually fill the reservoirs behind the dam. Siltation can happen more quickly in areas with more debris and sand for the river to carry, further decreasing the lifespan of a dam.

When debris is trapped behind a dam, siltation is not the only problem. Riverbeds downstream become stripped of the organic materials that would normally flow into and through them. Trapped debris can no longer create wildlife and water insect habitat in the river corridor nor enrich soils along the riverbank. With fewer structural materials such as logs and rocks to slow the river in places, a stripped stream bed results in enhanced erosion of the downstream river channel. In turn, unnaturally high erosion can result in excessive sediment loads traveling downstream to be stopped behind the next dam and contributing to siltation there. As you can see, the impacts of dams are increased not just to rivers, but other infrastructure too as more dams are placed along a river channel.

Significant impacts to fish and wildlife and further degradation of the already imperiled larger Colorado River Basin are not the solutions to our water concerns. In fact, they will likely only exacerbate them. Please help us deliver this message by August 4th, 2014 and ask Governor Mead not to pursue dams on the Upper Green River.

For questions please contact Amber Wilson, Environmental Quality Coordinator at amber@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org or 307-332-7031 (ext. 20)

 

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Guest Column: Part II — Applying lessons learned to protect people in new boom areas from air pollution

Note: The Wyoming Outdoor Council has partnered with Environmental Defense Fund in an effort to help the state of Wyoming protect the public from dangerous air pollution in the Upper Green River Basin—and beyond.

This guest column by EDF’s Jon Goldstein provides some insight into how we might apply some lessons learned to protect people who live and work in new drilling boom areas.

Wyoming’s Opportunity to Head off Pollution at the Pass

frackingwyo_92689731_rf_0By , EDF | Bio | Published: July 11, 2014

Yesterday we explored how Wyoming regulators and Governor Mead are making progress on a set of potentially strong air pollution measures in Pinedale and across the Upper Green River Basin of Southwestern Wyoming.

But today a similar drilling boom is happening in Converse and Campbell counties in the northeast area of the state. Unfortunately, none of these strong, sensible new air pollution requirements apply in these areas.

The numbers are stark. A full 80 percent of the current drilling in Wyoming is occurring out in the part of the state with the least restrictive air quality controls. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is currently beginning a process to consider as many as 5,000 new oil and gas wells in Converse County alone, and equal or greater drilling activity is expected in neighboring Campbell County over the next decade.

Historically, Wyoming has focused its best air quality controls in the areas with the most drilling. In the past this has meant the state has implemented controls in the southwest corner of the state that led the nation. This has included requiring reduced emission “green completions” on new oil and gas wells, frequent inspections using accurate, instrument-based technologies to detect and fix pollution leaks, and requiring cost-effective, nationally leading controls on things like pumps, glycol dehydrators and tanks that are among the largest sources of harmful pollution.

It’s now time for the state to continue this tradition by expanding these sensible pollution control requirements statewide in order to capture the new drilling hotspots.

Fortunately, state regulators have an excellent playbook that could be quickly implemented statewide. The strong, sensible controls the state is in the process of implementing across the UGRB could be quickly implemented on a statewide basis. New areas feeling the brunt of the boom in oil and gas drilling should benefit from the lessons the state has learned in the Upper Green River Basin.

Taking these pollution controls statewide will help level the playing field for producers and offer the same strong level of health protection to all Wyoming residents. They also make good business sense.

It’s a fact that it is almost always less expensive to prevent pollution than it is to clean it up. The state, therefore, has an opportunity here to apply cost-effective pollution controls upfront and do it right from the start.

And many of these technologies would actually save the industry money over time.  A recent report that EDF commissioned from the independent consulting firm ICF International shows that approximately 40 percent of hydrocarbon emissions from the nation’s oil and gas sector could be eliminated by 2018 at a total cost of just one penny per thousand cubic feet of gas produced. So, not only are these controls good for local air quality and the health of residents, they are good for the production companies’ bottom lines as well.

In the third reel of westerns, impending problems were often narrowly averted when the heroes saddled up and headed them off at the pass. When it comes to protecting air quality and the health of residents, that’s exactly the same opportunity the Cowboy State has here. Regulators, let’s ride.

- See more at: http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/2014/07/11/wyomings-opportunity-to-head-off-pollution-at-the-pass/#sthash.KJnh4kr8.dpuf

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Guest Column: Part I — A Promising proposal for fixing air pollution in the Upper Green

Note: The Wyoming Outdoor Council has partnered with Environmental Defense Fund in an effort to help the state of Wyoming protect the public from dangerous air pollution in the Upper Green River Basin—and beyond.

This guest column by EDF’s Jon Goldstein provides an excellent overview of the state’s newly proposed pollution controls, as well as some specifics about how these controls might be improved. Securing good rules for the Upper Green will be the first step toward better protecting everyone in Wyoming.

A Wyoming Two Step for Better Air Pollution Controls

By , EDF | Bio | Published: July 10, 2014

By G. Thomas at en.wikipedia

Wyoming is a national energy leader, producing more BTU’s from federal lands than every other state combined. It also has a long history of leading the nation on smart, sensible oil and gas air pollution regulations. The Cowboy State was among the first to require reduced emission completions (RECs or “green” completions) to control emissions from newly drilled oil and gas wells. It has also implemented some of the country’s best requirements to find and fix leaky oil and gas equipment.

The state now has an opportunity to continue this tradition by tightening controls on existing oil and gas pollution sources in the Upper Green River Basin. Draft rules recently released by the state show promise, and with key improvements–including expanded leak inspections and extending emission controls to compressor stations–these new requirements could again emphasize the state’s role as a national leader on oil and gas regulation.

Writing rules well is an essential ingredient to stay at the front of the pack; so is making sure that the rules are effective when applied. Currently, Wyoming’s air rules apply differently in different parts of the state, and in areas where the majority of the drilling takes place the least protective air rules apply. Wyoming has an opportunity to demonstrate its leadership again but it needs to adopt both robust air quality controls that work and implement comprehensive requirements that apply equally statewide.  All residents should have the benefit of cleaner air.

There’s great potential for the Cowboy State to take a Wyoming two-step toward better air regulations. Over the next two days, we’ll explore the steps involved, starting first with how Wyoming can improve poor air quality conditions in the Upper Green River Basin (UGRB).  

Tackling Wyoming ozone pollution

For several years Wyoming environmental regulators, industry and local residents have been grappling with a serious air pollution problem in Pinedale and surrounding Sublette, Sweetwater and Lincoln counties. A huge boom in oil and gas drilling in the UGRB led to harmful ozone levels breaking federal health-based limits. At times, Pinedale’s approximately 1,400 residents had to deal with smog levels rivaling those in famously polluted Los Angeles.

This oil and gas pollution has real health impacts including heightened risks of respiratory disease, especially in children and the elderly. And it’s a problem in Wyoming. A recent scientific study conducted by the Wyoming Department of Health showed that more Sublette County residents seek medical help for respiratory ailments on days with higher ozone pollution levels. In 2012, due to this unhealthy air, the UGRB was listed as a federal nonattainment area for ozone pollution and Sublette County has received “F” grades in several annual “State of the Air” reports by the American Lung Association.

To their credit, Governor Mead and his staff have tackled this problem head on. The state spearheaded a task force with local citizens and oil and gas producers to come up with a consensus plan for reducing air pollution. And the state has made good headway on implementing this plan, instituting strong air pollution controls on new and modified sources in the basin last summer, including some of the nation’s best requirements for regular leak inspections to detect and fix problems with leaky oil and gas drilling and production equipment.

The latest step could be their strongest yet, putting in place sensible, enforceable rules to reduce pollution from existing oil and gas sources in the basin. Rules that could translate into significant reductions in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and methane pollution. This will be the first time Wyoming has implemented regulations to tighten controls on existing sources of air pollution from the oil and gas sector and their willingness to do so highlights the technical, economic and political feasibility of these sorts of smart pollution control measures.

Improvements, however, are still needed to ensure these rules are as beneficial as necessary. For instance, these requirements could and should:

  • Require frequent instrument-based leak inspections. The state is currently proposing a two-tiered approach: quarterly visits at sites that produce emissions above 4 tons per year (tpy) and annual, instrument-based inspections at sites with emissions below 4 tpy. Unfortunately, based on the state’s own data of the 5,075 facilities in the UGRB, this would mean only 143 facilities (less than 3 percent) will receive the more robust quarterly inspections. These lower emitting sites may be smaller, but in aggregate they can mean a lot of VOC and methane pollution. For instance, again using state data, the 143 higher emitting facilities may be responsible for as little as 725 tons/yr of VOC emissions. Meanwhile the other 4,932 smaller sites might be responsible for between 4,932 and 14,796 tons/yr of harmful emissions – potentially as much as the VOC emissions from all the cars and trucks on the road in Wyoming. Performing these inspections more than once a year will help catch more leaks faster and therefore better reduce this harmful pollution.
  • Include compressor stations that can leak harmful oil and gas pollution. The most recent state emissions inventory indicates that compressor stations emit more than 1,500 tons of VOCs per year. If the rules are not strengthened to include compressor stations, they could potentially represent the largest source of unaddressed emissions in the basin.
  • Do not allow combustors that control emissions from pumps and dehydrators to be removed. These are two of the largest sources of VOC and methane pollution in the basin, and control devices are an effective tool in reducing their pollution. Once installed, these combustors should be kept in place to do their job as the state currently requires for new and modified dehydrators in the Jonah-Pinedale Anticline Development portion of the UGRB.

And it should be noted, as illustrated in a recent report from business consulting group ICF International, many of these pollution controls are extremely cost effective.

EDF will remain involved in this issue and advocate for these improvements on Monday as the state’s Air Quality Advisory Board considers these rules and later in the fall as they are expected to go before the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council.

It is good to see the state working to require commonsense, cost-effective air pollution control measures across the basin. Next, the state should make them apply across the state to head off the potential for similar pollution problems before they occur.

- See more at: http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/2014/07/10/a-wyoming-two-step-for-better-air-regulations/#sthash.RyQB3NXY.dpuf

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MEDIA RELEASE: BLM Issues Balanced Plan for the Wind River Basin

Storm over Beaver Rim, outside of Lander, Wyoming. Scott Copeland Images.

Storm over Beaver Rim, outside of Lander, Wyoming. Scott Copeland Images.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 26, 2014

Media Contacts:
Julia Stuble, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-332-7031 x11, julia@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org
Scott Kane, Lander resident, Owner, Creative Energies, 307-349-4052, scott@CEsolar.com

BLM Issues Balanced Plan for the Wind River Basin

LANDER — The Bureau of Land Management issued its new long-term land-use plan for the Lander Valley and Wind River Basin on June 26 — and the Wyoming Outdoor Council believes it is one of the most balanced plans yet created in Wyoming.

The new land-use plan will guide management of 2.4 million acres of federal surface and 2.8 million acres of federal mineral estate for the next 15 to 20 years.

The plan encompasses the Sweetwater Watershed — which contains some of the last intact sections of the Oregon, Mormon, and California National Historic Trails — as well as the Upper Wind River Valley, which is popular for recreation and is one of nation’s richest wildlife areas.

“This vast expanse of land is home to a varied and complicated mix of important resources, including extraordinary wildlife values, wide open viewsheds, valuable cultural landscapes, wild spaces, and extractable energy resources,” said Julia Stuble with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “The BLM has worked extraordinarily hard and has collaborated with a broad range of stakeholders to find an appropriate balance between use and protection of these resources.”

There is national attention on this plan because the lands in question are home to significant numbers of Greater sage-grouse, a species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers a candidate for Endangered Species Act protections.

“We have to remember that this plan is just one piece of a very large puzzle when it comes to conserving sage-grouse,” Stuble said. “Other field offices in Wyoming—and, perhaps more importantly, other states—will have to step up in strong and creative ways if we are going to avoid an endangered species listing for sage-grouse. There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that, range wide, sage-grouse populations remain viable and healthy.”

Stuble said that in this landscape, many of the important values overlap, and protecting one or more of these values has the effect of protecting others, including sage-grouse.

“We’re lucky in this case, for example, that by preserving the national historic trails corridor, we’re also protecting some of the best sage-grouse habitat in the planning area,” Stuble said. “In other plans and in other states, land managers will almost certainly have to focus more specifically on sage-grouse conservation.”

And it’s important to remember that this is just a framework for management, Stuble said. Its success will only be as good as its implementation.

Scott Kane is the owner of Creative Energies in Lander, a distributed renewable energy firm.

“Outdoor recreation, hunting and the beauty of the landscape are important to the local economy and our quality of life here,” Kane said. “Those are really the big reasons why a lot of us choose to live and work here—and definitely why tourists come to visit. This plan is good because it looks out for those values, which bodes well for the future.”

The plan is a testament to the fact that economic vitality and environmental responsibility can coexist, Kane said.

Notably, this new plan also includes the first application of a “master leasing plan,” this one for the remarkable Beaver Rim area. These landscape-scale analyses—as opposed to the more traditional piecemeal approach—allow for a holistic vision for where leasing is appropriate and where it is not.

“By protecting our public lands and encouraging responsible energy development, we only strengthen local economies,” Kane said.

In addition to the Sweetwater Watershed, decisions in the new plan will affect public lands on the Lander Front of the Wind River Range, lands in the Dubois area, the Bridger Mountains, the Gas Hills, Beaver Rim, and the northern edge of the Great Divide Basin.

The plan outlines the agency’s big-picture approach to managing historic trails, scenic values, wildlife habitats, hunting, tourism, and a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. It also provides a blueprint for activities such as livestock grazing and minerals development.

Some highlights from the plan include:

  • Protection for crucial wildlife habitats and important recreation areas surrounding Dubois—all of the federal oil and gas estate in this area is now unavailable for oil and gas leasing.
  • More than 1 million acres across the field office are now protected from surface use for oil and gas development.
  • Protection for the Red Canyon and Lander Slope—this landscape is now closed to mineral prospecting and claims, closed to phosphate leasing, and designated as “no surface occupancy” for oil and gas development.
  • Industry received a designated development area for streamlined oil and gas development in the Lysite and Moneta area.
  • Industrial development is now precluded on the surface of nearly a half million acres of the Sweetwater Watershed to protect the historical setting of the National Historic Trails.
  • A master leasing plan for the Beaver Rim area, which protects wildlife habitat while allowing responsible oil and gas development.
  • Protections for sage-grouse, crucial winter range, and historical values in the Atlantic City-Hudson area.
  • Well-placed rights-of-way for above ground transmission and pipeline corridors that will facilitate enhanced oil recovery projects in other parts of Wyoming.
  • Important viewshed protections for the public lands in the Bridger Mountains.

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