Yellowstone River dam project advances (as pallids face extinction)

from the Billing Gazette

Construction is slated to start this fall on modifications to a dam along the lower Yellowstone River that are meant to allow endangered pallid sturgeon to pass upstream.

Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager Brent Esplin said Wednesday that the completion of an environmental study this month means the $59 million project can proceed.

Dinosaur-like sturgeon have a shovel-shaped snout. They can live 50 years and reach 6 feet in length.

Advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in February saying the Intake Diversion Dam on the Yellowstone and a second dam along the Missouri River threaten an isolated population of about 125 sturgeon in Montana and North Dakota.

Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council contend the fish won’t use an artificial bypass channel proposed for Intake.

Read more:

Folks, let’s face it. If we’ve learned anything, unlike other area offices, the Montana Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation is NOT concerned about fisheries, even when one of our oldest natives is facing extinction. Please support the agencies and organizations that oppose the current bypass plan. This is one fight that, if lost, could set a precedence that condones negligent behavior and the destruction of our natural resources.

Bighorn Issues Group to meet April 23 in Lovell

The Bighorn River System Issues Group will meet on April 23 in the Lovell Community Center, located at 1925 Highway 310, Lovell, Wyo., from 10 a.m. to about 3 p.m.

The Bureau of Reclamation will present information about water supply conditions and comments received regarding the operating criteria for Yellowtail Dam/Bighorn Lake. Other issues particular to Yellowtail Dam and Bighorn Lake will also be discussed.

Previous meeting discussions and topics of the group are available online at

For additional information about the meeting, contact Jack Conner of the Bureau of Reclamation at 406-247-7300.

Read more:

Bighorn release to drop to 2,200cfs

As expected the water order change dropping releases to 2,200cfs just arrived.

Starting Monday. April 13 at 4pm river release will drop from 2,500cfs to 2,400cfs.
Starting Tuesday. April 14 at 4pm river release will drop from 2,400cfs to 2,200cfs.

The canal diversion will work their way up to 350cfs around that same time.

Bighorn April operating plan released

Reclamation released their April operating plan, and as anticipated and negotiated with FWP, we’ll see river releases reduced to 2,200cfs soon. My sources within FWP believed that regardless of the inflow conditions, Reclamation had agreed to maintain 2,200cfs through the rainbow spawn (though May), but the latest operating shows a drop to 1,500cfs in May should the Least Probable Inflow Forecast be used. FOBR will investigate.

The April plan also shows a peak lake elevation of 3,635 (five feet below full) occurring in June.

Snowpack has dropped a whopping 30% in a months time, and reductions to minimums and below are warranted. However, it has always been our contention that we will not tolerate minimum flows with a full lake.

Reclamation surprises; More cuts to releases coming

As anticipated, with snowpack (snow water equivalents) dropping a scary 30%
in a single month’s time span, additional cuts to river release are coming
along with increases in diversion to the canal.

Starting Wednesday, April 8 at 4pm, river release will decrease from 2,900cfs to 2,750cfs.
Starting Thursday, April 9 at 4pm, river release will decrease from 2,750cfs to 2,500cfs.

I commend Reclamation for sitting down with FWP and working out a river
release that will be maintained through the rainbow spawn. It was projected
by Reclamation that they could maintain at least 2,200cfs through the
spawn, and if needed, until fall. As many of you know, during the last
couple of years the rainbows have had to endure constant adjustments to
flows, causing the rainbows to abandon redds and seek higher ones as the
flows increased only to have the releases dropped and stranding the eggs.
This constant flow should go a long ways to helping provide good rainbow
recruitment and the efforts by FWP to protect the fishery are much
appreciated. Look for continued cuts in releases next week to get down to

I also tip my hat to Reclamation for understanding that all stakeholders
can still be served without filling the lake to the top of the conservation
pool (or higher).

These two actions by Reclamation show true collaboration and balance. Let’s
hope the trend will continue through this dry patch AND when the rains
finally return.

With luck, April and May will turn around and produce some normal or above
average precipitation to get us back on track. In the meantime, the river
is clear and fishing great, so get out and enjoy the spring-like weather!

Western Current Snow Water Equivalent (% of normal)

Snow water equivalents

The Westwide SNOTEL Current Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) % of Normal map shows the largest snowpack deficits (red areas) in the Cascades and Olympics in eastern Washington, all of Oregon, the Sierra Nevada in California, as well as most of Nevada, Arizona, parts of New Mexico, four basins in Idaho, two in Wyoming, and one in Utah. Below normal snowpacks (orange and yellow areas) are also located in eastern Washington, Idaho, most of Utah, eastern Nevada, western Colorado, parts of Wyoming, one basin in central New Mexico, and a few basins in Montana.
The snowpack in parts of Montana, northwestern Wyoming, eastern Colorado, southcentral Utah, and northern New Mexico are near normal.
One basin in northwest Utah and southeast Idaho has above normal snowpack at this time (light blue area).

Interior Department announces plans to partner with Crow Tribe on Yellowtail Afterbay hydropower

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior, in partnership with the Crow Tribe, will enter into an agreement for hydropower development on the Yellowtail Afterbay Dam, downstream of Yellowtail Dam and Powerplant, on the Bighorn River near Fort Smith, Montana.

The agreement is part of the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2010. Under the settlement, the Tribe holds the exclusive right to develop and market power generation on the Yellowtail Afterbay Dam.

“The Crow Tribe is excited to embark on the Tribe’s exclusive right under our water settlement to develop hydropower at Yellowtail Afterbay Dam and to begin the critical work to bring the benefits of hydropower to the Reservation and our tribal membership,” said Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote.

“This is an excellent opportunity for development of new hydropower capacity on existing infrastructure,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael L. Connor. “Working through the Bureau of Reclamation, Interior is pleased to assist the Crow Tribe on its Yellowtail Afterbay hydro development, resulting in clean, renewable energy, and creating vital jobs in the process.”

The Tribe is responsible for overall management of the hydropower project and for coordination of activities associated with the project. The Bureau of Reclamation will provide technical assistance in reviewing designs and making sure the new hydro coexists with the existing Yellowtail Afterbay Dam in a safe and reliable manner.

The next steps include completion of design data collection, followed by design and implementation of Reclamation’s dam safety processes for the proposed modifications to the existing structure.

Grading Reclamation


Following up on an earlier post, here’s how I thought we might grade the job Reclamation is doing in serving its stakeholders:

Operating Plan – An evaluation of how well the Bureau adheres to their own operating criteria and their published operating plan, adjusted, of course, for current and forecasted conditions. Extra credit is given when targets are met and a natural hydrograph is achieved. Demerits are given for prolonged deviations from averages, chronic, abusive and/or unnecessary water orders, overly conservative or liberal water management, negative impacts on the fishery and recreation, and time spent in the flood pool.

Balance – A continued, equitable balance of water between stakeholders will bring the highest grade in this category. Higher grades can be expected when risks are shared all conditions. Special consideration is always given to congressional mandates that include flood mitigation, hydropower generation and irrigation.

Collaboration – A measure of how well the Bureau not only listens to all its stakeholders, but how well and how timely it digests and acts upon the concerns of its stakeholders. Demerits will be given for perfunctory behavior including lip service, unresponsiveness, and smoke blowing, while demonstrated action that reaches beyond words will get extra credit.

In all categories, using typical, seasonal weather events as an excuse for poor performance will unconditionally result in a grade of F.

I welcome your input, ideas, comments and criticisms. Look for the first report card soon!


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of any agency or organization.

River releases to be cut back


Despite having only fifteen feet of storage in the conservation pool, increasing releases just two weeks ago and a lake elevation that is the fourth highest on record for this date, Reclamation has chosen to reduce releases based on “preliminary water supply forecasts”.

On Wednesday, April 1st at 4pm, releases will be reduced from 3,500cfs to 3,250cfs.
On Thursday, April 2nd at 4pm, release will be reduced from 3,250cfs to 3,000cfs.

While Reclamation’s water order did not indicate further reductions, other sources indicate flow reductions to the 2500cfs minimum are imminent unless a major weather event materializes.

As Friends of the Bighorn grows and expands its fight to Helena and Washington in an effort to get the Montana Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation to listen and provide some common sense and balance in its water management policies, I thought it would be interesting to grade the Bureau each month this year in a few key areas that are important to those of us who recreate or make a living on the Bighorn River or Lake. Check this blog for the first report card for March which will be posted in the coming days!

Lastly, a warm welcome to our friends along the Missouri River below Holter, who are suffering the consequences of the same overly conservative water management policies brought to us by the same area office that manages the Bighorn. Thanks for joining the fight folks!