December 8, 2009 – Water Sources

Water is scarce in the northern Bighorn Basin. We are surrounded by mountains on virtually all sides, and we are really in the rain shadow of each of these mountains. As I alluded to in my previous post, this is a problem as there isn’t a whole lot of water available on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Why is this a problem? The obvious reason is that it isn’t great for the horses if there isn’t much water for them, especially given the summer temperatures we can get here. The reason that is very important right now, though, is that having few sources of water over the PMWHR tends to cause the horses to spend the majority of their time in the summer in the areas with available water. This in turn can lead to the overgrazing of certain areas while the horses spend little or no time grazing in areas lacking water. This type of situation isn’t uncommon in wild horse areas. Overgrazing isn’t necessarily the big issue, grazing distribution is. Water availability is often the cause of this. At this time, this is what the distribution of water sources in the PMWHR looks like: (Please click on the map for a larger version.)

These are the major water sources on the PMWHR. At the top are the most familiar water sources. These are only available in the summer, and Krueger’s Pond is the only one that tends to have reliable water available through the warm seasons. The others small ponds up there can have a little water available later, though, depending on summer precipitation patterns.

In the middle of the PMWHR are the Burnt Timber and Sykes Ridge water developments. The Burnt Timber development was an old water catchment that had been in disrepair but was upgraded with two new guzzlers by the BLM in 2007. The Sykes Ridge development actually consists of a catchment tank that feeds into a trough. The trough must be manually filled up with water through a spigot there. Those of us who know where it is try to keep some water in there, but it’s not an optimal situation.

The other water sources are in the lowlands. Layout Creek is a primary water source for the horses living in and around Mustang Flats. The Park Service actually has a watering area in the creek built for the horses, but they’ll often be seen watering at other areas along the creek as well. Down south is Crooked Creek Bay; this is where the Park Service entrance to the PMWHR is. West of there are Sykes Springs and Cottonwood Springs, these are important watering areas for the Dryhead horses living in the lower Sykes Ridge area.

Notice that the best available water is in the little area at the top of the PMWHR as well as in the lower end of the PMWHR. The mid-slope, which is the largest area of the PMWHR, is lacking in water. These areas get use when there is snow on the ground, but they aren’t getting as much use as they could while the upper and lower elevation areas receive too much use. In response to this pattern, the BLM outlined plans in the new PMWHR Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) to make the grazing distribution of the horses more uniform by making water sources more uniform. The plan was released in May, but I understand legal action prevented the projects, such as the water developments, from being installed this year. However, in talking with the BLM recently, I was happy to learn that there are plans to install the developments next spring.

So where will there be water with the new water developments? Here’s a map showing the proposed sites, which are the red dots, along with the existing water sources described above. There are plans to do minor improvements on existing ponds, potholes, and the like; but I want to focus on the guzzlers, which we’ll get to down below. (Please click on the map for a larger version.)

As can be seen, these new water developments are concentrated largely in the mid-slope. Again, this is so that the horses don’t concentrate in small areas but instead spread out. Recall back to an earlier post in the Management Series that discussed the calculation of Appropriate Management Level. AML takes grazing into consideration, and having more uniform grazing can allow for an increase in AML.

So what do these guzzlers look like? The BLM’s got some purchased, and I went and took some photographs of them. Below are 3 guzzlers together. Each site will have one to two guzzlers.

At the end of them is the area where water is available for drinking. This area is constructed so virtually any wildlife can safely get to water. These guzzlers will definitely benefit the other wildlife of the PMWHR along with the wild horses; Bighorn Sheep are sometimes spotted at the Burnt Timber guzzler.

The guzzlers are pretty big with a capacity of 1800 gallons. They are also very resilient and require very little maintenance. This is what they look like inside.

As I mentioned above, the Burnt Timber water development was upgraded with guzzlers a couple years ago. It gives an idea of what they look like installed, though the new ones will be less conspicuous as they will have new catchment aprons; the one below still has its original one.

So in the back you can see the apron, it is the black square on the ground. Water collects there and then runs down to the two guzzlers through underground pipes.

Notice how when installed, the guzzlers are buried so that the watering area is just above ground.

We often associate management with actions that are directly related to the wild horses, like roundups. However, range improvement projects, like the development of new water sources, are another method of wild horse management. These types of projects focus on maximizing the population size that the land can carry. Still, though, the land can only carry so many horses; and so actions that focus on population management are sometimes needed. In the next posts in the management series, we’ll start talking about population management strategies.

I’m frequently heard saying that it’s only fair to scrutinize a management strategy’s effects on the horses if we ask the same questions of the alternatives. With that said, I think it would be useful if some of the questions you may have are shared with me, so that we can go through management strategies by comparing their effects. Please write a comment here with any questions you may be able to think of, or feel free to use the PMWMC contact form by clicking here. These are very relevant topics right now, and I think they are well worth understanding.

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 3:34 pm  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Huge thanks for explaining what a “guzzler” is and how it works. This seems like a such cheap solution to more horses’ using more of the range. How often are guzzlers used on other ranges? I know there are wells in some places–but the guzzler just seems like such a simple solution with little maintenance. A win/win for all.
    Hope you’re staying warm with this wintry blast.
    Thanks again for all you do for the horses and for all you do to help us 2-legged critters understand the wild horse world better.

    • I agree that guzzlers are a great solution for areas without wells and the like. I’ve heard of a few other areas that have guzzlers in place, and they seem to be working well there.

  2. Thank you Matt, it’s very interesting. Like many of your readers, I’ve never been in the range but I’ve seen it in movies or on pictures. It would be very nice if you could add some pictures of the current water hole, like the Krueger’s Pond. This will help us to learn the topography of the range. Thanks.


    • That’s a great idea, Cedric. This next summer I will expand on the topic of water sources by showing what the different areas the horses water in are as the summer progresses. Thanks!

  3. Very interesting, and I’m glad they can get at putting these things in now. I’d like to check one out if I get out there in spring or fall 2010. If we limit the horses’ ability to find water for themselves with fences, it stands to reason we should provide it somehow.I hope that these things work well enough to distribute the grazing patterns over more of the good areas on the range, and soon.

    I’m not sure I completely understand how the guzzlers work. Are they totally dependent on precipitation from the air, or are springs and/or snow melt, etc. sources of moisture? Does the water not get stagnant sitting in the container?

    I loved seeing all the wildflowers out on the range, especially on the mountaintop—they are truly beautiful, like the horses and other wildlife—but since my last visit and your informative tour, I now realize that it can be a sign of overgrazing if they, which the horses do not eat, are the main crop instead of needed grasses and forage plants. Very complicated environments can appear pretty simple to the untrained eye and at a glance.

    Thanks for the info. Keep it coming.

    Linda D

    • Hi Matt,
      Great explanation, and I am so happy to hear that BLM is moving forward in its effort to install more water sources. I couldn’t understand when I was down there why there was a legal challenge on this, but seems like it is no longer holding up the project.
      I too would like to know the source of the guzzler water — where it comes from, how it doesn’t collect algae, etc. Does it freeze in winter, and not break any of the equipment? Right now it is -40 degrees outside; I don’t know whether you too are experiencing this deep freeze.
      If the BLM can indeed install those water sources, it sounds like a terrific beginning to widening the herd distribution.
      When I was there, you pointed out the natural areas the horses go to for minerals. Would it also help if mineral blocks or salt blocks were dispersed throughout the area, perhaps around the new water sources, to again encourage dispersal.
      I put the blocks out next to my water source, and notice the equines water and go to the blocks at the same time. Wildlife also like the blocks. It’s a way to encourage them to stay in the area, and maybe graze more there.
      Just a thought!
      And thanks again for posting all this information. It’s about the only positive wild horse news I read these days, with all the negative news surrounding other roundup herds, ie. Nevada.
      But just FYI, in Saskatchewan, the government just passed an Act to protect the wild Bronson Forest ponies. There aren’t a lot of them, but people were shooting them. With the new Act, that won’t be allowed. As you know, in Canada there are no federally protected herds, other than the Sable Island ponies of Nova Scotia. All other efforts are undertaken by each province. In Alberta, the political will just isn’t there. The livestock and forestry industries would generally prefer the horses be gone, and they have yet to catch the person who is shooting and killing the wild horses near Sundre, in the Alberta foothills.
      The Pryor herd is fortunate to be under such close observation, and have people who not only care, but who can work in tandem with the BLM to improve conditions.
      Thanks for all that you are doing.
      Wendy D

      • The water comes from precipitation falling on the aprons. Right now, there’s a good amount of snow on the Burnt Timber guzzler’s apron. This will eventually melt and go into the tanks. Our spring rains also will fill these up.

        I’m actually unsure of the issue of algae in the tanks. Next summer I’ll try and peek into the Burnt Timber guzzler to see what the water’s like. My only thought on this is that some of the water the horses drink from the small puddles and such is pretty nasty looking, so it may not be as big of deal with the guzzlers.

        From what I understand, the tanks are very resilient and aren’t damaged if the water in them freezes.

        That’s great to hear about those horses up there getting some legal protection! Hopefully more will receive the same in the future.

  4. This is from a rather old booklet, “Seven Amana Villages — recipes, crafts, folk arts from the Seven Amana Villages of East, Amana, Middle, High, West, South, and Homestead”, copyright 1981 by Penfield Press, 215 Brown Street, Iowa City, IA 52240. There is a photograph of a small river, taken from the banks, showing a 55-65 foot long pool at the edge of the river, within a rock circle. The caption says,

    “Indian Dam – When the sun is high and the days are dry, the waters of the winding Iowa River drop lower and lower until there is exposed to view the river’s great scenic prize — its Indian dam in the Amanas. The Indians built the dam to aid them in catching fish in times of low water. This is the only Indian dam on a river in Iowa.” I guess the “dam” is built when the water is low, and then when the water again recedes after a high water period, water remains in the dam. And some fish. Of course, the water would be stagnant after a while if no rain came. But the dam was still there in 1981.

    Would this ancient technology or similar technology be considered a possibility? I guess all the above would do would be to postpone the inevitable (while providing fish for a short time to eat).

    • That’s very interesting! I think having some simple dams made of native materials would be great if it could at least temporarily make a variety of water sources available around the range. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Matt,
    I was finally able to view your blog. (computers!!) The guzzlers are very interesting. I remember a similar setup in the desert region just south of the Sierra Mtns in CA. It was on a much smaller scale and if I remember right it was for the ground birds such as quail, chuckar, etc. It worked on capturing rainfall, which is usually very seldom but in large amounts that just runoff in the desert. So these systems would catch water and keep it for quite some time.

    Is this water that would mainly be available in times other than winter since it sounds like it would freeze?

    Thanks for all of the information that you provide. It is really appreciated.

    Debbie Kimzey

    • I’m happy you were able to view this post! The guzzlers would be for times other than winter mainly as the horses have a readily available water source (snow) during the winter months that allows them to distribute across the range. I think a primary goal for the guzzlers would be to delay the horses’ use of the upper meadows each summer so that the meadows can be more developed before receiving grazing pressure. It would also be great if some of the horses would spend very little time on the upper meadows and instead stay in the mid-slope. This wouldn’t be anything new – The first time I ever saw Starman was in the summer, and he and his harem were living in the mid-slope and apparently watering from the Burnt Timber guzzler, which worked at that time.

  6. I was intrigued by Janet’s entry with the description of the Amana Indian Dam. Actually, I think this gives a good example of what the guzzlers are intended to do. It also shows that the concept isn’t anything new. It’s just a way to make better use of the resources available.

  7. Sorry for my delay in replying to these messages! I was out of town earlier this week and on the range yesterday.

    This was pointed out to me, and I think it’s something worth reading regarding guzzlers:

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