Mapping Stock Watering Structures in Southeast Idaho
I used to work for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation. I was the Soil Scientist. The Tribe manages 1.4 million acres of forest and rangeland in north-central Washington. One of my responsibilities was commenting on proposals submitted to the Tribe by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on behalf of private stock growers to develop natural springs for stock watering. The projects typically involved the installation of a new spring box (cattle watering trough). NRCS provides partial funding to cattlemen for these sorts of small-dollar projects under their EQIP Program. Tribal review is required under NEPA because projects are in part federal "actions" (spring box installation). The Tribe reviewed EQIP projects under Categorical Exclusion rules, which put them on the fast-track to success.
I saw dozens of such proposals each year and cannot recall ever finding a reason to launch an objection. Cows need water. Spring boxes pose no significant impact to soils of the Reservation. Go ahead. Have fun.
One July, I hiked across the vast, sweltering swath of rangeland constituting the lower Omak Creek Watershed. Along the way I encountered a surprising number spring boxes. Like, dozens of them. Back at the office, I made a simple map of every spring box in the drainage. To my surprise, nearly every developable spring in the watershed had indeed been developed. I wondered whether "cumulative impact" would be raised by my more environmentally-minded colleagues if I handed out copies of my new map at the next meeting.
Cumulative impact is the idea that one spring box poses no environmental issue, but a large group of spring boxes might.
Someone was sure to ask, "Is NRCS addressing cumulative impact in their EQIP proposals?" They certainly could be. The agency has the wherewithal and the resources to do so. Some smart folks work there. I had no dog in the fight and, frankly, had no idea whether the hydrological impact of a few dozen spring boxes was even measurable. Still don't. But I did think that responsible rangeland managers would want to know the answer if it were.
Fast forward 15 years. Last week, I made this map of developed springs, constructed ponds, and other excavations in a portion of SE Idaho. It took me 2 hours. The map covers two full 1:24,000 scale quadrangles (Pegram Creek, Boundary Ridge) in Bear Lake County, ID and Lincoln County, WY. The basemap image is a shaded relief (hillshade) derived from publicly-available, high-resolution digital elevation data (lidar data). Pixel size is about 2 meters. I'll leave it to local Conservation Districts, stock growers, and BLM rangeland managers to determine whether this information is helpful.
Zoomed-in view on a portion of the above map. Red circles are check dams or ponds.
Click the link below to download a higher-resolution PDF of the full map.