, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 370–378 | Cite as

The importance of flood irrigation in water supply to wetlands in the Laramie Basin, Wyoming, USA

  • Dannele E. Peck
  • James R. LovvornEmail author


As in many areas of western North America, flood irrigation for hay production has created many wetlands in the Laramie Basin, Wyoming. Since the early 1900s, water from mountain snowmelt has reached wetlands via ditches and as interflow and ground water percolating from flooded fields and unlined ditches. Such systems are viewed as inefficient for irrigation and other human uses because they reduce the volume and increase the salinity of downstream flows. Increasing irrigation efficiency by lining ditches or installing sprinklers would decrease wetland habitat, but such effects are seldom considered. To assess potential impacts of increased irrigation efficiency, we determined how flood irrigation affects the hydrology and types of wetlands in the Laramie Basin. For 74 wetlands with 80 total inflows, just 14% of inflows were as surface flow from natural stream channels. In contrast, 65% of inflows were directly from irrigation: 30% as surface flow from ditches and 35% as interflow percolating from ditches and irrigated fields. Fifteen percent of inflows were as surface flow from other wetlands, and 6% of inflows were from ground water with unknown recharge source (probably either natural streams or irrigation). In this year of high water availability (1999), wetlands receiving surface water generally were fresh or oligosaline regardless of whether that flow was from natural streams, other wetlands, or ditches (mean ±1 SD=3.28±5.07 mS/cm, median=1.60, range 0.07–22.10). In contrast, wetlands receiving water as interflow percolating from ditches or irrigated fields, or as ground water with unknown recharge source, were more likely to have conductivities of mesosaline or higher (mean ±1 SD=22.45±32.71 mS/cm, median=9.08, range 0.60–112.00). Conductivity of surface water in the 74 wetlands (mS/cm) ranged from fresh (0.07) to hypersaline (112.00), with a mean of 10.89±22.80 (SD) and median of 2.60; this range of salinity corresponds to substantial variation in wetland community structure. In the Laramie Basin and similar areas, flood irrigation is critical to the existence, hydrology, and community types of most wetlands, and these effects should be considered in plans to increase irrigation efficiency.

Key Words

flood irrigation irrigation efficiency Laramie Basin Rocky Mountain wetlands saline wetlands wetland hydrology 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Literature Cited

  1. Adams, R. M., R. P. Berrens, A. Cerda, H. W. Li, and P. C. Klingeman. 1993. Developing a bioeconomic model for riverine management: case of the John Day River, Oregon. Rivers 4:213–226.Google Scholar
  2. Burritt, E. C. 1962. A ground water study of part of the southern Laramie Basin, Albany County, Wyoming. M.S. Thesis. University of Wyoming. Laramie, WY, USA.Google Scholar
  3. Clancy, C. G. 1988. Effects of dewatering on spawning by Yellowstone cutthroat trout in tributaries to the Yellowstone River, Montana. American Fisheries Society Symposium 4:37–41.Google Scholar
  4. Conover, W. J. and R. L. Iman. 1981. Rank transformations as a bridge between parametric and nonparametric statistics. American Statistician 35:124–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Copes, F. A. 1970. A study of the ecology of the native fishes of Sand Creek, Albany County, Wyoming. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA.Google Scholar
  6. Cowardin, L. M., V. Carter, F. C. Golet, and E. T. LaRoe. 1979. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC, USA. FWS/OBS-79/31.Google Scholar
  7. Fetter, C. W. 1994. Applied Hydrogeology, 3rd ed. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA.Google Scholar
  8. Gates, T. K. and M. E. Grismer. 1989. Irrigation and drainage strategies in salinity-affected regions. Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering 115:255–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hadley, R. F., M. R. Karlinger, A. W. Burns, and T. R. Eschner. 1987. Water development and associated hydrologic changes in the Platte River, Nebraska, U.S.A. Regulated Rivers: Research and Management 1:331–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Harmon, E. J. (ed.). 1989. Water in the Valley. Colorado Ground-water Association, Lakewood, CO, USA.Google Scholar
  11. Hart, E. A. and J. R. Lovvorn. 2000. Vegetation dynamics and primary production in saline, lacustrine wetlands of a Rocky Mountain basin. Aquatic Botany 66:21–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jenkins, A. 1999. The Platte River cooperative agreement: a basin-wide approach to endangered species issues. Great Plains Research 9:95–113.Google Scholar
  13. Johnson, G. D., M. D. Strickland, J. P. Buyok, C. E. Derby, and D. P. Young. 1999. Quantifying impacts to riparian wetlands associated with reduced flows along the Greybull River, Wyoming. Wetlands 19:71–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Littleton, R. T. 1950. Reconnaissance of the geology and ground-water hydrology of the Laramie Basin, Wyoming. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 80.Google Scholar
  15. Lovvorn, J. R. and E. A. Hart. 2001. Ecosystem function of intermountain wetlands: irrigation, salinity, and landscape patterns of foodweb support. In M. C. McKinstry, S. H. Anderson, and W. A. Hubert (eds.) Wetland and Riparian Areas of the Intermountain West: Their Ecology and Management. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, USA. (in press)Google Scholar
  16. Lovvorn, J. R., W. M. Wollheim, and E. A. Hart. 1999. High plains wetlands of southeast Wyoming: salinity, vegetation, and invertebrate communities. p. 603–633. In D. P. Batzer, R. B. Rader, and S. A. Wissinger (eds.) Invertebrates in Freshwater Wetlands of North America. John Wiley & Sons New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  17. National Research Council. 1996. A New Era for Irrigation. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, USA.Google Scholar
  18. Parker, J. M. 2000. Habitat use and movements of the Wyoming toad, Bufo baxteri: a study of wild juvenile, adult, and released captive-raised toads. M.S. Thesis. University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA.Google Scholar
  19. Prenzlow, D. M. and J. R. Lovvorn. 1997. Design and results of a waterfowl breeding population survey for Wyoming. Journal of Wildlife Management 61:758–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Sando, S. K., J. Borrelli, and D. J. Brosz. 1988. Hydrologic impacts of improved irrigation efficiencies. Journal of Irrigation Drainage and Engineering 114:334–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. SAS Institute. 1987. SAS/STAT guide for personal computers. Version 6 edition. SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA.Google Scholar
  22. Skagen, S. K., C. P. Melcher, W. H. Howe, and F. L. Knopf. 1998. Comparative use of riparian corridors and oases by migrating birds in southeast Arizona. Conservation Biology 12:896–909.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Szymczak, M. R. 1986. Characteristics of duck populations in the intermountain parks of Colorado. Colorado Division of Wildlife Technical Publication 35.Google Scholar
  24. Wallace, J. S. 2000. Increasing agricultural water use efficiency to meet future food production. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 82:105–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wollheim, W. M. and J. R. Lovvorn. 1995. Salinity effects on macroin vertebrate assemblages and waterbird food webs in shallow lakes of the Wyoming high plains. Hydrobiologia 310:207–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wollheim, W. M. and J. R. Lovvorn. 1996. Effects of macrophyte growth forms on invertebrate communities in saline lakes of the Wyoming high plains. Hydrobiologia 323:83–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wyoming State Engineer. 1996. Tabulation of adjudicated surface water rights of the State of Wyoming, Water Division Number One. State Engineer’s Office, Wyoming State Board of Control, Cheyenne, WY, USA.Google Scholar
  28. Young, M. K. (ed.). 1995. Conservation assessment for inland cutthroat trout. U.S. Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO, USA. General Technical Report RM-GTR-256.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

Personalised recommendations