On Monday, November 25, at 4pm, river releases will increase from 2,330cfs to 2,400cfs. Reclamation has indicated this increase is necessary to evacuate storage from the exclusive flood pool.
We are awaiting word that 2,400cfs will be the new winter release until spring.
Update: Reclamation has indicated this increase in releases is temporary, and will most likely revert to 2,330cfs when the flood pool has been evacuated. FOBR will continue to work to achieve at least minimum flows for the winter.
Citing record low fall and winter releases from upstream reservoirs and despite Bighorn Lake elevations in the exclusive flood pool, Reclamation has set winter releases for the Bighorn River to 2,330 cfs. Typically those releases are maintained until early spring barring any unusual weather events.
The winter release represents just a 30 cfs increase from the current release to 2,300cfs.
Reclamation sent out this explanation of the sluice gate malfunction that occurred a few evenings ago. Kudos to them for the quick response!
At approximately 11:30 p.m. on October 21, river flows in the Bighorn River increased from 2,250 cfs to approximately 3,300 cfs for about 30 minutes then back down to 2,800 cfs for several hours. The river stage below the Yellowtail Afterbay increased approximately 0.8 feet when the river was at 3,300 cfs. The number 3 sluice gate opened several feet due to a malfunction of the gate motor and possibly gate actuator. Yellowtail staff worked several hours through the night to close the sluice gate and restore river flows back to 2,250 cfs. Staff are currently making repairs and investigating the incident.
So now that I have your attention, let’s be clear we’re talking about removing Russian Olives, that ubiquitous invasive species that is taking over the banks of the Bighorn and choking off our side-channels.
Until now, you probably heard about the efforts to remove existing adult shrubs, and what a laborious and nearly impossible task that is. You already know that the olives are out-competing native vegetation and threaten to permanently alter riparian habitat which affects everything from trout to the mighty cottonwoods. What you may not have realized is now is the time you can do a great deal to help and have a dramatic impact on the growth and spread of Russian Olives.
The next time you stop on the river, whether to fish, assist clients, have lunch or take a leak, look for the young Russian Olive plants a foot or two tall (see pictures). The young plants have fairly small root system and can easily be plucked from the ground with minimal effort. Discard them with a toss up on to higher ground. In minutes, you can stop the spread of 20, 30 or even 50 or more plants.
As you float, pay special attention to the entrances of side channels, and especially side channels that are dry with these lower flows. Notice how the young olives have already taken root and beginning to armor and choke off the side channel. Take a moment to educate the folks in your boat about the issue, and encourage them to pull a few plants with you. If we all do a little bit to help, we can have a tremendous impact on these nasty invaders.
Good luck and thanks for you help!
For those of you who like to follow NOAA weather, here’s that latest precip probability for the next couple of weeks.
During today’s stakeholder’s conference call, Reclamation announced that dry conditions have necessitated a slight reduction in releases from Bighorn Lake. Later this week, flows will be reduced from 2,000cfs to 1,900cfs. Reclamation officials indicated they have every hope that this flow can be maintained through the winter. This reduction is necessary to meet target lake elevations by spring.
During the call, FOBR requested that a discussion begin on modifications to the operating criteria to include, during drought years, the banking of enough water during the winter months to provide a spring flush. Reclamation and FWP have indicated they are willing to discuss such changes.
[ Updated 4:30pm: The flow reduction has been scheduled for 4pm on Thursday ]
While monitoring the river and the lake the last six years, we’ve seen the Yellowtail project experience its share of trials and tribulations. Fuses, light switches, batteries, software, sensors, you name it. Some snafus had serious consequences, others not so serious. While we expect the highest degree of professionalism from the folks at the Montana Area Office, they are human beings after all, and things happen. But when a fuse blows, or a circuit get fried, we appreciate knowing what happened and how it happened, so that we can feel comfortable it won’t happen again. Until recently, when an incident occurred, it was often weeks, and more commonly months, before Reclamation owned up to who was responsible, or even that an incident had occurred. There are still some unanswered question from years ago.
Yesterday, during the regular stakeholders conference call, Steve Davies who moderated the call with MTAO Area Manager Brent Esplin sitting next to him, clearly and succinctly explained what happened, accepted full responsibility, and outlined measures to make sure the incident isn’t repeated. What happened (and please excuse my layman’s explanation) is an old power line that had been out of use for about ten years was rehabilitated and placed back in service to supply power from the main dam to the Afterbay dam. Doing so would allow Reclamation to use hydropower instead of purchasing power. When the line was charged, something happen that blew a circuit board at Afterbay affected automated and/or remote operation. Reacting within minutes, Reclamation had staff in place to operated the gates manually, and kept staff there throughout the night. Outfitter Michael Mastrangelo, standing in the river, reported the incident almost as it happened, and FOBR was in touch with Reclamation until 11pm that night. A similar but much briefer incident occurred the following day, and was dealt with immediately. Since then, operations are back to normal.
This small fluctuation in flows seems to be a relatively minor annoyance, but to a guide or angler on the river, it can ruin an otherwise good day. In this case, river stage increased six inches. While the depth is not that great, the water spreads out quite a good ways on a shallow bank, picking up dead algae and debris and carrying it downstream, where it readily (and seemingly purposely) tangles in fishing line, making it nearly impossible to fish. If your living depends on your clients catching fish, this can ruin a day, put a real dent in your pocketbook and potentially harm return business. Thankfully, because the response what quick and decisive, the inconvenience was limited to a few hours.
Friends of the Bighorn River applauds the efforts of Reclamation and their quick response to this incident. We are particularly pleased with this new and unheralded transparency that helps us feel more like partners rather than bystanders. Hats off to Brent and his crew for a job well done!
For a second day, flows from the Afterbay were steady for a long while before slowly rising then suddenly plunging much like yesterday.
There is speculation that a new power line which feeds the Afterbay was energized for the first time and ultimately affected sensitive electronics which help control the gates that regulate releases from Afterbay. Today, one of the gates suddenly closed, and had to be reopened manually. Like yesterday, engineers are scrambling to schedule personnel to man the Afterbay throughout the night to manually make adjustments as needed.
We’ll continue to monitor the situation, and appreciate everyone who has called and/or emailed from the river with visual confirmation of the change in releases. You can monitor activity on the river at http://bighornriver.org/bhr
Early this evening at 4:45pm, long time Bighorn outfitter and guide Michael Mastrangelo was working one of his favorite holes with a client when he noticed two extraordinary things: first, that fish were suddenly rising like crazy, and second, that the water was rising up his waders. He didn’t need his years of experience on the river to know that if you’re standing in the same spot and the water is rising when it isn’t supposed to be, something ain’t right. A quick call from the river to his wife Ellyn, and in minutes it was confirmed that the releases from the Afterbay had increased rather dramatically.
| 16:00 | 1987.73 | | 16:15 | 1987.73 | | 16:30 | 1861.49 | | 16:45 | 2357.82 | | 17:00 | 2635.15 | | 17:15 | 1998.46 | | 17:30 | 1966.38 | | 17:45 | 1955.75 | | 18:00 | 1977.04 |
The data above is an excerpt of the raw data produced by Reclamation Hydromet system, an online database where stakeholders can monitor river and lake status in near real-time. The time is in military format, and starts at 16:00 which is 4pm. Notice at 4:30pm, the flows took a precipitous drop of over 100cfs, and fifteen minutes later shot up 500cfs to 2,357cfs, and finally peaking at or near 2,635cfs at 5pm. Fifteen minutes later, flows returned to normal at 2,000cfs.
A call to Reclamation yielded few answers, but FOBR will investigate further. In the meantime, a big shout out to Michael and Ellyn for their quick response and thoughtfulness. Watch this site for future updates on this issue and updates to summer releases.