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A Day in the Field: Water Conservation, Restoration, and Working Together

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

The Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance spent the day sharing how working together brings positive outcomes for ranchers and shared conservation goals in managing water.

Every season in the ranching community is a busy time. But that doesn't stop the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance from getting together once a year for a day to highlight the great work taking place on the ground.

On July 11th, ranchers, community members, conservation advocates, and resource managers gathered to visit different water restoration projects, irrigation systems, and talk about the importance of water for the valley.

The day started at the Madison County Fairgrounds in Twin Bridges. We were blessed with a clear sky, cool breeze, and a warm welcome from Rick Sandru, Darcie Warden and Les Gilman, three founding members of the RVSA.

The RVSA was formed in 2015 working towards the shared values of the group to maintain our working lands, enhance our outdoor way of life, preserve wilderness heritage and quiet country, maintain high-quality recreation experiences, and to build lasting relationships.

The group has certainly met its original intent when it first formed and continues to expand its reach and impact in the valley.

Inevitably, water is a subject we talk about throughout the year. We talk about how the snow-pack looks in the mountains and at what rate it melts. Ranchers watch water levels and manage use. Fishermen track flow rates and temperature. We all watch the water level in the Ruby Reservoir from spring to fall.

Many people rely on the water for their living, others recreate and find peace and solace. But no matter why you pay attention to water we all know it's important for the survival of communities and life.

The first stop on the tour was Hamilton Ranch to learn about a channel restoration project on the Ruby River. Nathan Korb, a retired representative from The Nature Conservancy (pictured below), described the historical river conditions and the dire need for connectivity between the river and its floodplain.

With a well-prepared design, a team of volunteers, and a few big machines, the project was successfully completed in 2017. Thank you to the James family and Jamie Wood for sharing the success story of the Hamilton Ranch restoration project.

(click the arrows on the side of the picture to view the slideshow)

Next up, Silver Springs Ranch just south of Sheridan. The Silver Springs ranch is owned and operated by Neil Barnosky and Jake Barnosky. We got the up-close and personal tour of the impressive technology of a water pivot.

Neil Barnosky shared his knowledge of different irrigation practices including a recently installed pivot. The group conversed about irrigation efficiencies and the best locations to utilize different types of irrigation. At this specific location, the pivots improved the Silver Springs operation by being able to apply the correct amount of water to their crops.

Field tour participants were introduced to three generations of the Barnosky family; Neil explained the importance of family on the ranch and how he is evolving their ranch to better assist future generations. We appreciated the opportunity to see the Barnosky operations!

Before lunch, we gathered at the Ruby Habitat Foundation Visitors Center next to the Clear Creek Project.

Les Gilman provided the history of the Ruby Habitat Foundation, ranch operations, and the Clear Creek Project. Similar to the first stop on the tour, this project was designed to reactivate the floodplain surrounding Clear Creek. Continued monitoring is run by the Ruby Valley Conservation District. Audra Bell described the long-term tributary monitoring program that's been in place for seven years. This robust monitoring program records discharge and temperature data across eight water bodies and has more than 25 stations.

Thank you to the Woodson Family and Staff for graciously allowing us to tour the project!

After a delicious meal provided by Ruby Valley Meats, the group heard from Audra Bell, Stewardship Director for the Ruby Valley Conservation District (RVCD).

Audra highlighted the conservation work the RVCD is achieving throughout the Ruby Watershed.

Projects include:

  • weed spraying

  • livestock carcass composting

  • river and stream restoration projects

  • tributary monitoring efforts

The RVCD receives significant support from the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance to implement landscape-level projects.

We wrapped up the day at the Triple Grizzly ranch just south of the Ruby Reservoir. Floodplain restoration was also the focus of this project. The effort to improve floodplain connectivity is no small feat and incredibly important.

Audra described the ecological benefits of these projects and the importance and significance of healthy floodplains. Healthy floodplains improve the resiliency of watersheds when faced with too much or not enough water.

Within the Ruby watershed, four floodplain connectivity projects have been implemented with future projects planned.

The human component plays a crucial role in increasing this resiliency. The more support watershed groups receive, the better equipped we will be for changing conditions. Thank you to the Letterman family and Alan Oborny for allowing us to learn about the importance of river restoration on the Triple Grizzly Ranch.

(click the arrows on the side of the picture to view the slideshow)

The overall theme for the day was working together, connected floodplains, and the influence humans have on water systems. All of the projects and efforts benefit the greater good of the people, land, wildlife, and water. Every action makes a difference.

The day ended with conversation, cold drinks, and warm handshakes.

We look forward to the field tour of 2024 and hope to see you there!

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