Cuts to Bighorn releases to continue


Seeing snowpack dwindling and inflows dropping, Reclamation will continue gradual decreases to river releases.

Starting this afternoon, releases will drop 500cfs to 5,000cfs. In addition, all releases from the spillway gates will be discontinued and 625cfs will be released through the (cooler) river outlets.

Looks for more cuts to releases in the coming days (and possible over the weekend) barring any unforeseen weather events.

Have wonderful Happy Father’s Day weekend, and don’t forget everyone can fish for free this weekend!

Slight change to Wednesday’s Bighorn releases schedule

Reclamation has made a small change in plans for releases tomorrow.

Instead of two bumps of 250cfs (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), there will be just one bump at 4pm of 500cfs.

A big thanks to those who called or wrote with spawning reports. Those reports convinced FWP that it was OK to have one slightly larger release rather than two smaller ones, and they passed this along to Reclamation. This makes anglers and guides much happier, too, as the morning bump seems to always put the fishing down for the day.

Special thanks to Reclamation and WAPA for making this important accommodation!

Bighorn release to jump another 1,000cfs to 4,000cfs by Wednesday


Reclamation is telling us that “inflow forecasts indicate the release to the Bighorn Rover needs to be increased”.

Therefore, look for releases to jump 250cfs twice a day for two days starting tomorrow. Bumps will occur at 8am and 4pm. Flows should be at 4,000cfs shortly after 4pm on Wednesday.

I know many of you will be angry, and especially those of you fishing and guiding Tuesday and Wednesday, and will be looking for answers to 1) why do releases have to be increased at 8am and 2) why push the rainbows off the spawning beds at the worst possible time? I’ll give you my two cents worth.

A large, wet storm hit the Bighorn basin south of us. Storms like this are not all that uncommon during April and May, the two wettest months of the year. However, when water is managed too conservatively and inadequate storage is available to handle both runoff and sporadic weather events like this last event, reactions to wet events must unfortunately be quick and often. That’s what we’re seeing now. The average lake elevation for this time of year is usually 8 or 10 feet lower than it is at present (3,616.67ft). Those 8 or 10 feet of lake elevation amount to a good deal of storage, which is currently filled with water, which must be released to make room, and that, my friends, is why you’ll see AT LEAST 4,000cfs this week.

As always please report river and algae conditions and floating and/or take out hazards. Thanks to all of you who have been contributing!

Has Bighorn water management really changed?

Folks, if you have a minute, I’d like you to take a look at something that illustrates some of the problems I’ve been trying to relate since Reclamation implemented the new operating criteria.

This first graph shows us the average lake elevations and river releases for the last 7 years. A few things stand out. First, on average, Reclamation starts each water year on Oct 1 with pretty close to a full lake. That’s seems nice. Second, on average, Reclamation takes the lake well into the flood pool. That’s not so nice if you happen to recreate on the north end of the lake. Thirdly, on average, the lake elevation only drops to 3,618ft. Wow! That’s really sweet if you boat at the south end of the lake and most certainly a coincidence that the minimum boat launch elevation was 3,617ft at that time! Fourth, the river is at or below minimums for half the year, hanging on for dear life for four weeks while the flows climb and ruin the rainbow spawn and flush out the brown fry, then endure high water cancellations for a month, followed by waiting out nearly two months of flows dropping back to minimums as the algae starts to take hold. Makes a person be glad winter has finally come.

Combined 7yr-avg-2008-2015


Next we have a graph of the same information, but this time the the date range is from 1991 to 1998. At a glance, they two graphs look a lot alike. However, look at the Y axes on the left and right on both graphs. Let’s look first at the lake elevation on the left sides. On the graph below, you’ll see Reclamation used to start the water year about three feet lower that they do now. That sounds scary. But wait! Here’s where things get interesting. Follow the lake elevation down and you’ll see, on average, it bottoms out at 3,609ft. That’s a whole 9 feet lower than how they’re managing the lake now. That has to be bad, right? Hmmm… looking at the river releases, they’re above minimums and even mostly well above minimums. That’s definitely good! Hold on! The peak release is also lower. Clients don’t cancel when flows are under 6,000cfs, so that’s good, too! Come to think of it, the banks aren’t caving in either, so that’s another plus.  But if the river is getting all that love, it must mean the other stakeholders are getting screwed, right? No, the lake elevation, on average, was nearly 3,620ft on Memorial Day and there was plenty of water during the summer, so the south end is happy. Surely the hydropower folks are screwed, right? Nope. More water in the river means more water went through the turbines. Stakeholders are happy and Reclamation has met its obligation to provide flood control, irrigation, hydropower, recreation and fisheries. Come to think of it, no one was bitching from either end of the lake back then. Little wonder.

Combined 7yr-avg-1991-1998


We’ve now had enough years to evaluate the success or failure of the new operating criteria. One could argue that the criteria hasn’t been fully tested because its never been completely followed. Just this spring the March target specified in the criteria was missed by 9 feet. Whether that miss was intentional or simply pilot error, the new operating criteria ain’t cutting the mustard. Since the criteria, we’ve seen river flows in excess of 8,000cfs six times in eight years. You have to go back 26 years prior to that before you’ll find another six years of flows over 8,000cfs.

Please join me in asking Reclamation to return to sensible and balanced water management and end this cycle of overly conservative water management.

Bighorn releases to hold through the weekend

Just got off the phone with Reclamation, and they’re indicating that no changes to releases are planned for today or through the weekend as long as weather conditions stay as forecast.

We’re all hoping the runoff has peaked and that we’ll see inflows start back down early next week.

The takeout at 13 mile continues to be quite hazardous. Please use caution when approaching the ramp (when putting in and when floating to it), as well as when retrieving boats. Many anglers are reporting that when they start to crank their drift boats onto their trailer, the stern can drop below the gunwales partially swamping the boat and pulling it off the trailer.  Plan ahead, folks.

Runoff set to peak

Horse Head 6-11-2015

The picture above (taken yesterday) is of the Shoshone’s in Wyoming, and one of the watersheds that drains in to the Shoshone River, which empties into Bighorn Lake. If you look closely at the center of the picture, you see the horse’s head. Local legend has it when the bridle breaks, the runoff has peaked. As long as I’ve been doing this, it hasn’t been wrong, and I’m not surprised many astute water managers use the horse’s head to help them make decisions.

To prove a point, the picture below was taken only 10 days prior. The horse’s head is almost indiscernible.

Horse Head 6-1-2015