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Erosion Mitigation in Sheridan County

By Andrew Cassiday, District Conservationist in the Sheridan Field Office

Boasting an 1884 priority date, the Pratt and Ferris Cattle Company’s #1 Ditch has diverted from Piney Creek near the town of Ucross in Sheridan County to water lands primarily on the north side of Clear Creek below the Piney and Clear Creek confluence for generations. Meandering against the hillsides, the Pratt and Ferris #1 Ditch carries water along the north side of the Clear Creek valley for about seven miles. 

In 2009, the Ditch Company contacted NRCS in Sheridan to help them fix the wasteway on the #1 Ditch. The ditch ends on a hillside and must flow off the hill and down a draw, back to Clear Creek. At least one previous drop structure had failed and been abandoned.  The existing drop had failed and cut a deep canyon, about 20-25’ deep and extending approximately 100’ back into the hillside. Below, in the draw the ditch follows back to Clear Creek, the division box structure in the draw had washed out and created a large gully. As a result, the last user on the ditch could not get water to two of his fields. The problems continued to worsen through the irrigation season in 2009 with the gully eroding further, creating a hole about 50 feet across and 6-8 feet deep. Knowing something needed to be done in order to preserve their water rights and operate the ditch in a responsible manner, Ditch Company decided to apply for Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding to help fix the problems at the end of the #1 Ditch.







Left: Still-in-use failed drop structure and ‘The Canyon.’  It has been there for some time, but continues to worsen.
Right: Historic failed drop structure with failed still-in-use drop structure and ‘The Canyon’ in background.  







 Left: Washed-out drop structure in the draw. Looking toward Clear Creek, June 2009.
Right: Erosion and washed-out division box in draw downstream of drop structure. Looking up the ditch, October 2009.

Once funding was approved, work began at rapid clip in January 2010. Ryan Johnson, project engineer in Powell, worked to get survey and design work complete in time to construct the project prior to irrigation season. After considering a few possible solutions, it was decided that a pipe drop starting above the existing failed drops structures would be the best way to safely convey the water both back to Clear Creek and on past the draw to the last two fields served by the #1 Ditch.

Construction began in April 2010, to place an inlet structure in the ditch and lay two pipelines, a 21” pipeline to take waste water to a stilling well just above a state highway culvert back to the creek, and a 10” pipeline to serve the two fields below the draw. The Ditch Company and the landowner also reached an agreement to take fill dirt from a nearby hillside to fill in the gully the ditch had cut and build the draw back to a stable grade. With irrigation season rapidly approaching, the contractor completed their work in about three weeks and the Ditch Company turned the water into the ditch that day. 

The pipe drop continues to function exactly as planned, and the draw was reseeded and has re-vegetated nicely. With luck, the drop will continue to serve the users of the Pratt and Ferris #1 Ditch for many more generations.





















Top: Completed outlet structure flowing into a state highway culvert.
Middle: Water flowing into completed inlet structure, finish grading work still in progress.
Bottom: Dozer backing up the hillside to carry material to fill in the gully in the draw below. 


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