Desert Treasure

Our job has become a treasure hunt on a grand scale. The treasure we seek is not gold, or diamonds: it’s water.

We are now well into the process of spring inventory. Twenty years ago, BLM hydrologists went all over Natrona County and catalogued information about every single spring on BLM land. The hydrologists took photos, made maps, and took water quality samples. The time is ripe for new hydrologists to begin the task of assessing the health of these wetland areas.

Armed with topographic maps from the 90’s, and a couple of old photographs, we set out in our pick-up to check the wetlands. The search is sometimes simple: a spring may lie just off a county road, but often, things get complicated. Two-tracks visible on satellite imagery are not always what they appear to be on the ground. There may be a giant rut running through the center of the two tracks. One false move, and the truck is almost guaranteed to be stuck.

I’m always excited when we find the wetlands. We may have been hiking or driving for an hour, not seeing a trace of green vegetation, or water, when suddenly we come upon a wet meadow with a giant cottonwood swaying in the wind. Water in the desert! Treasure found!

Sometimes the spring is very colorful and smelly!

The next task is to take some quick, but informative water quality measurements: conductivity, pH, and temperature. Then we take photographs, and map the area precisely using arc Collector on a tablet. Afterwards we inventory the riparian plants found in the area and assess the ecological condition of the spring using a checklist designed by the Natural Resource Conservation Association. Then it’s on to the next spring! Only three hundred more to go!

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