ArcNews Online

Winter 2009/2010

GIS Used to Provide Hydrological, Climatological Information

Wyoming Shares Water Resources Data

By Chris Nicholson, Tony Bergantino, and Steve Gray, Water Resources Data System, University of Wyoming


  • Customized ArcIMS applications serve many stakeholders.
  • Individual point locations for water and a variety of climate records can be viewed against backdrops.
  • The Web-mapping applications are linked to the State Engineer's database of all groundwater wells in the state.

From the snow-packed peaks in Grand Teton National Park to the harsh, dry plains of the Red Desert, Wyoming is truly a land of climate extremes. As the fifth driest state in the United States, Wyoming is constantly threatened by drought. Since 1999, much of Wyoming has been gripped by moderate to severe drought, prompting the state to take careful account of its water resources. To help meet those demands, the Water Resources Data System (WRDS) at the University of Wyoming provides both hydrological and climatological information to the public and to federal, state, and local agencies. WRDS offers extensive current and historical spatial data with related attribute information. With so much of the water data in Wyoming linked to spatial attributes, WRDS has taken steps to disseminate all this data via the Internet to water managers, legislators, and stakeholders across the state.

GIS and Wyoming's Water Resources

  click to enlarge
Average annual precipitation from 1971 to 2000 across Wyoming.

WRDS has long been a library and data repository for Wyoming water- and climate-related information. WRDS is often tasked with the creation of maps for various water plans around the state, and this is accomplished using different GIS applications. WRDS has taken advantage of the University of Wyoming's Esri University Site License and made available water and climate data using customized ArcIMS services. Publishing this type of data via customized ArcIMS applications allows numerous water stakeholders to examine how different areas of the state are developing and using existing water and to determine where in the state those resources may be most sensitive to changes in climate, shifts in demand, and increasing human populations.

Streamflow, Precipitation, and Climate

WRDS' core water- and climate-related applications link users to the U.S. Geological Survey's stream gauge network (, thereby allowing access to real-time and historical stream flow data for Wyoming. Users are also provided with links to station metadata and information about these records. Likewise, WRDS is able to link users to snowpack telemetry (SNOTEL) sites that record snowpack data from across the state ( and to a wide range of meteorological observations and climate data housed at the Western Regional Climate Center (

In addition to the "one-stop shopping" that these applications offer, ArcIMS allows WRDS to provide a rich context for this information. Individual point locations for water and climate records can be viewed against backdrops ranging from aerial photography to maps of landownership.

Groundwater Resources

The Wyoming State Engineer's Office maintains a database of all groundwater wells in the state. WRDS' Web-mapping applications are linked to this database, allowing users to locate groundwater wells and find information, such as actual yield and the depth to the top of the mean water-bearing zone for each site. Currently, users can view well locations in relation to climate and surface water features, as well as bedrock geology. In the near term, plans call for the addition of recharge-zone maps and soils to these applications. With the combined pressures of water shortages and energy production becoming more prominent in the state, it is essential that users be able to examine these groundwater resources in detail and better understand their place in the broader landscape.

Irrigated Lands

The high plains of Wyoming require irrigation in order to sustain agriculture, and as a result, irrigation accounts for the majority (more than 80 percent) of water use in the state's seven river basins. Approximately 1,947,000 acres are irrigated in the state, a number that has steadily increased over the past 30 years. By using ArcIMS, WRDS can show users where these irrigated lands are located and connect them to water rights information associated with each parcel. Users may also view features related to the management of irrigation water (e.g., irrigation district boundaries) and irrigation-related infrastructure (e.g., diversion dams).

Public Water Systems

Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL site.

Since 1998, the Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO) has conducted biannual surveys of public water systems in the state. These surveys provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date sources of information on water rates, operating criteria, and infrastructure needs throughout Wyoming, and WRDS' ArcIMS tools provide the public and decision makers alike with ready access to this data. These surveys and the data they generate are fast becoming a key component of WWDO's funding criteria and an important aid in prioritizing feasibility studies and project construction needs.

Online Water Library

The WRDS Water Library is a comprehensive collection of more than 21,000 documents and is a resource for individuals seeking in-depth information on the state's water resources. Every year, the State of Wyoming commissions reports on water projects ranging from municipal water supply repair and pipeline construction to instream flows. WRDS has dynamically linked the Water Library's report collections to these tools, thereby providing engineers, researchers, and the public with access to key water-related documents. This not only streamlines the process of searching for water resource material but also allows easier distribution of electronic documents throughout the state and region.

WRDS is now able to reach a large audience and provide it with vital information on Wyoming's most precious resource—water.

About the Authors

Chris Nicholson is the outreach and technology coordinator for WRDS. Tony Bergantino is the programmer analyst executive and assistant state climatologist for WRDS. Steve Gray is the Wyoming State climatologist and WRDS director.

More Information

For more information, contact Chris Nicholson (e-mail:, tel.: 307-766-3741) or visit,,, or

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