Creeks and rivers throughout Jackson Hole will soon be swollen with snowmelt. In urban areas, melting snow carries sediment, salt, metals, hydrocarbons, and other pollutants deposited on roadways and parking lots throughout the winter into streams and rivers.
Snow storage piles adjacent to waterways present an opportunity to protect water quality. With the support of Hungry Jacks General Store and Basecamp, Teton Conservation District (TCD) and the Jackson Hole Land Trust (JHLT) partnered with Teton Heritage Landscaping on a project initiated by the JH Clean Water Coalition (JHCWC) to remove the snow storage piles adjacent to Edmiston Spring. The JHCWC is a partnership led by the TCD, Protect Our Waters Jackson Hole, and Trout Unlimited to address water quality issues in Teton County. The JHCWC also administers the Trout Friendly Lawns program to promote ecosystem-friendly landscaping practices in Teton County.
Edmiston Spring is a small, spring-fed tributary to Fish Creek. It bubbles up on the east side of Owen Bircher Park, meandering through downtown Wilson along the Wilson Wetlands Trail for about a half a mile before meeting its confluence with Fish Creek. Edmiston Spring is a valuable nursery for juvenile Snake River cutthroat trout and provides aquatic and wetland habitat for numerous other species. Excess sediment, especially fine silt, clogs up loose gravel streambeds, which are critical for both trout and macroinvertebrate reproduction cycles.
Teton Heritage Landscaping transported four dump-truck loads of snow away from the spring. Just how much sediment did this prevent from entering the spring? Trevor Deighton’s Jackson Hole Middle School 8th grade science class investigated that question. Deighton’s students melted down 22 liters of snow and filtered out the sediment. Averaging the values, they estimated that the four dump truck loads of snow prevented approximately 4,783 gallons of water of questionable quality and about 1088 pounds of sediment from draining into the spring.
“The results of the investigation by the young minds at the middle school illustrate how small actions by the community can have big impacts on the water quality of Teton County,” notes JHLT Director of Stewardship Derek Ellis. “The Jackson Hole Land Trust is proud to be a partner of the JH Clean Water Coalition to help protect the waters of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”
“This project, despite its small size, has a big community and ecological benefit,” says Carlin Girard, Teton Conservation District’s water resources specialist & associate director. “We hope it inspires others to consider snow storage locations that are close to streams and waterbodies, and pursue snow storage removal projects that could have a large cumulative impact on water quality throughout the valley.”
This small project builds on the Edmiston Spring Channel Enhancement Project, a collaborative effort that began in 2015 to improve aquatic and wetland habitat. Partners of that project included Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, Friends of Fish Creek, Teton Conservation District, and the Snake River Fund.
Photo: Phoebe Coburn