Releases to reach 5,000cfs Thursday evening

As anticipated, in order to control the rate of fill, Reclamation will increase releases.

On Thursday morning at 6am, flows will increase from 4,000cfs to 4,500cfs.
On Thursday evening at 4pm, flows will increase from 4,500cfs to 5,000cfs.

Reclamation is hopeful they can hold releases at 5,000cfs if conditions (and the Corps of Engineers) allow it.

Precipitation comes just in time! River releases to increase.


It looks like all our rain dances have paid off. The spring rains have been plentiful, the upstream reservoirs have increased releases, and Bighorn Lake is rapidly filling. In order to control the rate of fill, Reclamation will have to increase releases.

Starting today at 4pm, releases will increase 800cfs from 2,200cfs to 3,000cfs.
On Wednesday, at 6am, releases will increase 500cfs from 3,000cfs to 3,500cfs.
On Wednesday, at 4pm, releases will increase 500cfs from 3,500cfs to 4,000cfs.

Once at 4,000cfs, Reclamation will watch inflows and stay in close contact with the upstream reservoir to evaluate whether additional releases ay be required.

A big thanks to Reclamation for working hard to help us achieve good rainbow recruitment this year, and for working closely with FWP biologists in protecting our fishery.


Another hats off to Reclamation

Let’s give a tip of the hat to Reclamation this month for releasing an operating plan that further reduces the target peak lake elevation by another five feet to 3,630ft in order to protect the rainbow spawn that was mostly lost last year. You may recall Reclamation sat down in person with FWP and essentially negotiated a release that could be maintained through June, and so far, its look like they’re working hard to protect the fishery.

River users are prepared to see slightly lower flows this summer and fall in order to maintain a healthy rainbow population. Let’s keep up the rain dances for a few more weeks anyway.

Thanks, and good job, Reclamation!

Anglers still finding gas bubbles on upper three.

Guides and anglers are still finding fish that are showing signs of gas bubble trauma in the upper 3 miles of the river. Reclamation has been notified and is looking into ways to use the gates at Afterbay to minimize the problem.

Hard-working guide Seth Byler sent in this photo yesterday of a brown caught near Red Cliffs.

Hard-working guide Seth Byler sent in this photo yesterday of a brown caught near Red Cliffs.

Nitrogen gas super saturation is a problem common to most tailwaters, and low flows prevent fish from easily escaping it by moving to deeper water. Bighorn fish can typically tolerate fairly high levels of nitrogen. Anglers are encouraged to report dates and locations of fish found with symptoms of gas trauma.

Reclamation showing signs of collaboration; Its time to re-engage.


Last Thursday, Reclamation held its spring Bighorn River Issues Group meeting in Lovell. The agenda was filled with mostly familiar issues including updates from other government agencies, but the last agenda item included something we’ve not seen from Reclamation: the early stages of what might be some honest-to-goodness collaboration with stakeholders.

A couple of things that have transpired in the last months or so are worth noting. First, the face-to-face meetings between Reclamation and Fish, Wildlife and Parks seemed to have resumed. This is a very good thing. These meetings were commonplace in years past, and it gives the engineers and the biologists a chance to share, collaborate, and reconcile their concerns, especially during times where conditions reach extremes. Second, Reclamation is making good on their promise to evaluate all of the public comments on the operating criteria. During the Issues Group meeting, they asked for clarification on several comments, and even proposed further studies on a number of comments proposed by myself and FWP. Reclamation made another promise to return to the Issues Group with the findings and any proposed action that may be warranted as a result.

This is very good news. Such good news that, at the urging of my friends and colleagues and opponents, I have decided to re-engage in the process so as not to miss this rare opportunity that Reclamation is offering. Sure, my butt is sunburned from having so much sunshine blown up my skirt, but I’ve got a feeling this time will be different. Reclamation must feel I’ve got something to bring to the table and it would be stupid if I didn’t follow through.

Let me be clear. Actions speak louder than words. If it turns out Reclamation is once again blowing sunshine, and reneges on these studies without explanation and/or continues operating under current criteria which it mostly does not adhere to, the gloves are going to come off again.

As always, I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for your support, encouragement, river reports ad humor!


Guides finding symptoms of gas super-saturation

Photo by guide Kerry Erickson on Thursday, April 23, 2015

Since the flows dropped under 2,500cfs, guides are starting to catch fish with symptoms of nitrogen gas super-saturation. It appears both browns and rainbows are being affected. While nitrogen saturation levels are typically higher than normal in tailwaters, fish often escape their affects by moving to deeper water. With the lower flows, there are fewer places to hide on the upper river, and finding trout with symptoms is to be expected.

You are encouraged to report symptomatic fish, and be sure to note the date, time and location where the fish were caught. Also, be on the lookout for impaired or dead fish and report those instances immediately to FWP at 247-2940


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.