Unless you’ve been living in a cave since November, you’ll notice that snowpack is a tad above average. In fact, the forecast for April through July inflows in to Bighorn Lake increased a whopping 500,000 acre/ft. That’s just under half the water that can fit in the reservoir!
Accordingly, Reclamation will increase flows on Wednesday morning to 2,715cfs, and to 3,000cfs on Thursday morning. It is almost assured that flows will increase again later in the month.
Enjoy the beautiful weather, and see you on the river!
Stating that streamflow data indicates releases are higher than anticipated (meaning algae has left the system and is not displacing as much water), Reclamation has decided not to adjust flows downward because of the above normal rate of snow accumulation in the Bighorn River basin. As a result, flows have been slowly increasing over that last few weeks to 2,570cfs, and Reclamation has decided to leave those flows at that level. The Bureau did not consult nor notify stakeholders or FWP of this change.
It is worth noting that the lake elevation is 3,627.8 feet and rising. This elevation is slightly above last year’s elevation (a much drier year) and 15 feet above average for this day but only 3 feet above the elevation called for by the operating criteria and rule curves.
[Update: Reclamation did attempt to make contact with FWP regarding this water order change but that attempt failed. Manager Steve Davies has indicated the Bureau will look at better ways to handle situations when attempts to contact FWP fail. A big thanks to Steve for his call and most helpful explanation. -DH]
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 ]