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Thanks to irrigation, water table high

The water table is just below the surface in Powell, and it’s causing soggy basements.

“It is what it is,” said Craig Barsness, Shoshone Municipal Pipeline manager. “There is nothing anybody can do about it.”

Irrigation is a major cause of the high water.

The water table is 8 to 9 feet, or in some areas around Powell, decreasing to 2 feet below the surface at the height of the irrigation season. The table recedes in winter, but it endures.

“I think it is pretty much there all the time,” said Bryant Startin, Shoshone Irrigation District manager.

About 98 percent of the fields in the Willwood Irrigation District receive flood irrigation, said Tom Walker, Willwood manager.

Dan Laursen, manager of the Heart Mountain Irrigation District, said he is sure irrigation raises the water table, but the district does have springs, too.

Laursen estimated there was a lower percentage of flood irrigation on his district, but said he wasn’t sure.

A shallow water table can cause basements to flood.

“People are crazy to put a basement in the middle of agriculture,” Startin said.

There is no city ordinance prohibiting it, but City Water Superintendent Bill Winters said he does not recommend basements, especially on the outskirts of Powell near farms.

Laursen concurs. Folks should understand that their homes are located in irrigated agricultural land. “Even a crawl space is questionable,” he said.

Typically, new houses are built on the edge of town. Although contractors are proficient at installing sump pumps or sealing basements, Winters said he still advises against basements.

Walker recommends against basements in Willwood, and he abides by that advice as well. He is building a home two and one-half miles west of the Willwood Corner (Wyo. 295 and Lane 13) with no basement, he said.

Park County has no regulations prohibiting basements, but there must be barriers in place to prevent septic or other waste water systems from infiltrating ground water as per Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality standards, said Linda Gillett, Park County Planning and Zoning manager. And the county enforces those standards, she said.

Drains in irrigation districts surrounding Powell were designed solely to relieve fields of excess water. With 134 miles of underground tile drains and 143 miles of open drains in the Shoshone District, water captured is returned to the irrigation system and/or the Shoshone River, Startin said.

Roughly 75 percent of households in Powell — new and old — have wells to draw water for irrigating lawns. At a rough calculation, there are around 2,500 residential water taps in town. That calculates to around 1,875 or more wells in Powell tapping into the shallow water table, but most of the wells are not registered, so that number is a calculated guess, Winters said.

Before Shoshone Municipal Pipeland brought water to Powell, city residents could only use city water on odd or even days to water lawns, depending on their street address. Now, there are no restrictions on what days folks water their lawns, Winters said.

In those days, the city used three wells and four collection systems that drew water from irrigation drains. The well water was chlorinated at pump houses, and the water at collection sites was chlorinated there to make it potable for users, Winters said.

Irrigation is essential to farming in this arid region.

The Willwood office hears a lot of complaints about flooded basements during the irrigation season, but the district’s business is surface water, not ground water, and stopping the flow of water vital to crops is untenable, Walker said.

There is a downside to shutting down flood irrigation.

Because of the installation of more water-efficient irrigation pivot lines on two farms south of Powell, residential wells there have gone dry, Startin said.

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