Current WRP Projects: Project 52

Developing a Framework for Estimating Groundwater Connections to Wyoming Reservoirs

  • Project Number:  52
  • PIs: Kevin Befus, Assistant Professor, Civil and Architectural Engineering, UW
  • Period: 03/01/2017 - 02/29/2020



Wetland protection is a major concern for managing, expanding, and building reservoirs in Wyoming. An important factor in wetland resilience near reservoirs is the availability of water to wetland ecosystems across a range of reservoir water levels that are dictated by water needs downstream as well as the overall water availability for a given year. The purpose of this study is to investigate how groundwater may serve as a potential buffer for reservoir-related wetlands by reducing water stresses during low or variable reservoir conditions. A framework for monitoring and predicting the hydrologic connection between reservoirs and surrounding groundwater systems will be developed, combining field-based analysis and computer simulations. An outcome of this project will be the development of a user-friendly numerical model of groundwater-reservoir interactions that can be used to predict groundwater levels near specific Wyoming reservoirs. Reservoir management strategies that maintain groundwater levels near the land surface despite low reservoir levels may allow wetland sustainability while providing maximal water to downstream users. The validity and accuracy of the model will be tested and improved by monitoring groundwater and reservoir levels at an existing reservoir over the course of the project. The field study will also serve as a natural experiment to understand how water tables respond to changing reservoir conditions, while creating an example dataset than can be emulated for other reservoirs to enhance model prediction accuracy and future reservoir management.

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