Flat Creek on the National Elk Refuge

The evening sky illuminates Flat Creek as it winds through the National Elk Refuge. Teton Conservation District has just released an updated Flat Creek Watershed Management Plan, first drafted in 2006.

An updated plan to restore the health of the Flat Creek watershed aims to build on the progress of the 2006 original by pursuing more stormwater and habitat improvement projects in the coming years.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has long deemed the creek an impaired waterway, due to pollution and degradation from human activities. But data show it’s bouncing back with the introduction of better water treatment and other protections for the ecosystem, despite the increase in human population and development.

“There’s been a lot of progress made,” said Carlin Girard, water resource specialist with Teton Conservation District, which prepared the plan for Flat Creek. “It’s looking better even though we’re having the potential for a great impact.”

Local management of the Flat Creek watershed has its roots in a 1999 stakeholder group that coalesced to avoid state regulation. The Conservation District, along with other organizations and concerned residents, formed a committee that spent the next few years drafting what became the 2006 Flat Creek Watershed Management Plan.

Since then, nearly all of the practices and policies in the original plan have come to fruition. The most significant accomplishments include the Karns Meadow wetlands, built to filter stormwater before it enters the creek; treatment units installed throughout the town’s stormwater system; street sweeping; and a document to guide pollution prevention efforts.

As those recommendations became reality, the 2006 plan grew outdated, and last year a new committee formed to update it. The revision outlines the next steps for local government, state and federal agencies, and other groups.

All told, the various recommendations would cost about $21 million over an undetermined period. Some are slated for the near future, while others are hypothetical.

Within the next few years, the big-ticket items include $1.5 million in wetland enhancements at South Park feedground, $2.5 million in habitat upgrades on the Lockhart Ranch south of town, and a long list of stormwater projects.

One of them, for $3 million, is already in the public eye: stormwater treatment at the southern end of town, which would be included in the Gregory Lane improvement project that will appear on November’s specific purpose excise tax ballot.

Among the potential long-range projects is $5 million to daylight Cache Creek, much of which flows underground through Jackson before emptying into Flat Creek at the north end of town.

Besides capital projects like those, Girard is also excited to see a more systematic approach to managing Flat Creek. For example, he said, the town of Jackson’s stormwater master plan is underway and will lay out clearer guidelines for development requirements and how to fund infrastructure, among other things. Although Flat Creek remains impaired, Girard said, he’s encouraged by the advances he’s already seen and confident the new plan will pave the way for that trend to continue.

“We have momentum right now,” Girard said, “and I hope that we can continue positive, productive, collaborative conversations about how we move the community forward in a way that protects and directly addresses the concerns we have in the watershed.”

Find the Flat Creek Watershed Management Plan attached to this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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