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Teton County in ‘severe’ drought

JACKSON, Wyo. — One hundred percent of Teton County is now in at least a “severe” drought, the Teton Conservation District (TCD) announced yesterday.

That means a couple of things: Teton County overall is experiencing “poor pasture conditions,” a press release from TCD said. Water levels are low; water temperature is high. TCD has recorded record-low water levels. At the same time, water use is at a record high. Those things are related, said Carlin Girard, water resource specialist for Teton Conservation District. When groundwater levels (think: what we drink, bathe in, etc.) drop, surface water levels follow.

“When that groundwater drops, the [surface] water has a real propensity to just drop out and become groundwater,” Girard said in an interview with Buckrail. “And in areas where surface and groundwater are connected, the more water we pump out of the ground, the less surface water we have.”

To help contextualize the data he was observing, Carlin Girard plotted this year's measurements against historic averages and ranges. Courtesy Teton Conservation District

Girard has seen droughts come and go before — that’s what they do, he said. But he became particularly interested in this one last fall.

“As I was hunting, I was jumping over creeks I’ve been jumping over for over a decade and was astounded at how low they were,” Girard said.

Sure enough, Girard looked at soil moisture data and saw that soil moisture was the lowest it had been in 10 years. That’s not ideal for vegetation, and dry soil sucks up moisture from precipitation and snowmelt, which leaves less in the rivers and streams, Girard said.

or for absorbing moisture from precipitation, Girard said.

Then Jackson saw a relatively dry winter, “meager” snowpack, dry spring, and early summer. As of July 12, the Upper Snake River Basin has received 79% of normal precipitation for water this year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Now, Teton County is facing record-breaking visitation and dry, hot weather. And we’re using a lot of water. The Town of Jackson reported that Jackson used — 165,816,910 gallons of water in June 2021, compared to 143,252,081 gallons in June 2020. That’s a difference of more than 22 million gallons.

It’s going to take some personal responsibility to help mitigate the effects of this drought, Girard said.

“Drought conditions put people in a position where you’re contrasting what you want versus what you need,” Girard said. “I’m hoping people can see that collectively, our actions can affect needs — like the need of water to grow food, or drink — versus the want or desire for water to water a lawn.”

Teton Conservation District and the Town of Jackson recommend the following water-saving actions:

In your home:

  • Use low flow showerheads
  • Only run dishwashers and washing machines when they are full
  • Flush toilets only as needed

Outside of your home:

  • Water lawns only during the evening, night, or morning periods
  • Use mulch and drip irrigation in flower beds
  • At most, water every other day
  • Not every portion of lawn needs the same amount of water; water according to need
  • Keep your grass long by increasing mow height and limit mowing intervals—mowing damages grass and damaged grass needs much more water
  • Set a timer when you water with hose sprinklers—it’s so easy to forget they are running!
  • Use compost to top-dress areas that brown in your yard to increase soil water retention
  • Wash your car less requently

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