So many questions. So few answers.

Word from Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries manager Ken Frazer is that the accidental drawdown will have a pretty significant impact on the upper river. We probably won’t know the extent of the damage for several years. For now, we’re left with these questions: Is a pattern of disregard emerging from Reclamation and the Park Service? If Reclamation is authorized by Congress to manage the reservoir for hydroelectric power, irrigation and flood control, why was there flooding this year during a normal water year? Would an independent audit and/or evaluation of the Reclamation’s management practices result in recommendations different from current operating plans? Why doesn’t the Park Service have a resource management plan for the river? How culpable are they regarding this issue? The historical 32 foot lake elevation window and shrunk to 20 feet. The end of the boat ramp at Horseshoe Bend is under 25ft of sediment. As sediment continues to accumulate at Horseshoe Bend at 4,000 tons per day, will the window continue to shrink? If so, how far? How high is too high? At what lake elevation will Reclamation finally decide they cannot safely operate? Who are these people, the lake users, that we’re sacrificing so much for? How many are there? Why aren’t there accurate counts of visitors?If you run across employees of Reclamation or the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, ask them. We certainly will.

Reclamation Press Release

Montana Area OfficeBillings, MontanaMedia Contact: Paula A. Holwegner (406) 247-7300 For Immediate ReleaseYellowtail Afterbay Gate Control System MalfunctionsAt approximately 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 29, the automated Yellowtail Afterbay Gate Control System experienced a malfunction which resulted in releases to the Bighorn River dropping to approximately 1,500 cfs for a brief period. According to Montana Area Manager Dan Jewell, alarms that are built into the new system alerted staff at Yellowtail Dam who responded to the situation, and releases from the afterbay were restored back to the previous rate of 4,000 cfs by around 1:15 pm. Were very much aware and concerned about the potential resource impacts this type of event can have and we try our best to ensure it doesnt happen; but, we obviously missed something along the way this time. Although weve already taken steps to ensure a similar malfunction doesnt occur again, that doesnt change the fact that the fishery resource was likely impacted to what extent we wont likely know immediately. Im confident the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be able to better assess impacts in the weeks and months ahead.The afterbay automation system has been undergoing pre-commissioning testing for a couple of weeks now, and as this incident demonstrates, automation systems can unfortunately be vulnerable. We believe this malfunction was triggered by a significant electrical surge, but regardless of the cause, it points out the need for additional failsafe mechanisms in our control system.

Reclamation confirms incident

Area Manager Dan Jewell called moments ago to confirm that a malfunction with the new gaging equipment at Afterbay caused river releases to be temporarily reduced to nearly 1,000cfs yesterday afternoon. Reclamation is looking in to the cause and details of the malfunction, and will issue a press release later today.

Fish kill on the Bighorn?

I got a disturbing email this evening from an outfitter in Ft. Smith. Below is the text of the email, and I’ve withheld the names until this has been investigated further:[My husband] and our head guide [name withheld] were guiding today. They are reporting literally hundreds of dead rainbow fry near the corrals. What the h— is going on ? The river dropped to about 1500 this afternoon and back up to 4150? Their boats were dry docked. One more thing…..[my husband, the other guide] and all of their clients spent their time as productively as they could…trying to return the fry to water. Still, hundreds died.The USGS and the Hydromet data confirm this event occuring around 12:30pm this afternoon, however the data indicates the flows dropped to 1,000cfs.I will investigate this further Thursday morning and report back. I’m shocked Reclamation has been silent on this. Hats off to this benevolent outfitter, guide and their clients.View the full size USGS graph here. Below is the partial Hydromet data for that time period today:BHSX |09JUL29| QR | | 11:00 | 3982.00 | | 11:00 | 3982.00 | | 11:15 | 3999.00 | | 11:15 | 3999.00 | | 11:30 | 3993.00 | | 11:30 | 3993.00 | | 11:45 | 0.00-| | 11:45 | 4005.00 | | 12:00 | 0.00-| | 12:00 | 3964.00 | | 12:15 | 0.00-| | 12:15 | 3998.00 | | 12:30 | 0.00-| | 12:30 | 3559.00 | | 12:45 | 1007.00 | | 12:45 | 1007.00 | | 13:00 | 2503.00 | | 13:00 | 2503.00 | | 13:15 | 4029.00 | | 13:15 | 4029.00 | | 13:30 | 4005.00 | | 13:30 | 4005.00 | | 13:45 | 3959.00 | | 13:45 | 3959.00 | | 14:00 | 4006.00 | | 14:00 | 4006.00 |

Reclamation and the 20 foot window

Friends: Yesterday’s conference call with Reclamation was perhaps the most frustrating to date. Area Manager Dan Jewell made it crystal clear that he is managing the reservoir for lake elevation, and went so far as to define his priority as a twenty foot window (that window being lake elevations between 3,620 and 3,640ft as requested by the Park Service). Further, he defined risk as attempts to deviate from those elevations, and management of that risk would reflect in lower river releases, NOT lower lake elevations. Historically, lake levels have been managed with at least 32 foot window. With a larger window, storage is evacuated prior to spring runoff to avoid filling deep into the flood pool, to prevent flooding the lake camgrounds, marinas and docks, and to prevent outrageously high flows in the river. The last two years are good examples of what can happen when lake elevations are too high prior to runoff. This year, thousands and thousands of dollars were lost in flood damage; something Reclamation is authorized by Congress to avoid. Add to that thousands more dollars wasted on man-power to remove and manage driftwood on the lake, and more dollars lost to outfitters, guides and shops on the river during June and July, and you have the makings of a near catastrophe. One can only imagine the revenues lost in hydro-electric power. Keep in mind, this all happened during a normal water year! The management of the National Park Service’s Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has requested this window. They, the Park Service, must be held accountable along with Dan Jewell. It is time for the Park Service to recognize that the river is an important and vital component of BCNRA and deserves as much consideration, if not more, as its other visitor sites. The Park Service and Reclamation must come to grips with the realities of sacrificing a vibrant river economy to support a single lake interest that has been given a death sentence to die by siltation. We will continue to work with our partner organizations, advocates and politicians to find a solution to this issue. In the meantime, consider emailing the following individuals and let them know you object to the current management style and the 20 foot window.Area Manager Dan Jewell: djewell@gp.usbr.govBCNRA Superintendent Jerry Case: Jerry_Case@nps.gov

New gaging equipment at Afterbay update

Great news! The new gaging equipment recently installed and calibrated at the Afterbay went online a few days ago. This equipment will provide Reclamation engineers and the public with much more reliable and accurate information regarding releases to the Bighorn canal and the river, and dispense with the confusion caused by algae vs river stage.This site will begin using the new data immediately. On the home page, Releases (in the right column) will now reflect the actual river releases instead of the combined river and canal releases.As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions!

Another drop

Despite a lake elevation which is still five feet in the flood pool, Reclamation is reducing releases to more closely match inflows. Hopefully, with the abundance of water in the lake, BOR will provide us with river releases above established minimums for the rest of the summer.Here’s Reclamation’s latest:Inflows into Bighorn Lake continue to decline as the releases from Boysen Reservoir is being reduced. Power generation also indicates actual canal and river flows vary from those anticipated. To slow and control the evacuation rate of storage in the exclusive flood pool, the following operation changes are required at Yellowtail Dam and Powerplant after applying the new shift.Starting this evening at 6pm, river releases will decrease from 4,700cfs to 4,000cfs.

Big drop!

Apologies for the tardiness of this update.Reclamation is still in the process of slowing the rate of evacuation now that inflows have dropped off.On Friday at 6pm, flows were reduced from 7,500cfs to 6,300cfs.This morning (Saturday) at 7am flows were again reduced to 5,300cfs.On Sunday at 7am, flows will be reduced again to 4,500cfs.

River release adjustment

This just in from Reclamation:Releases from Boysen Reservoir are being reduced causing inflows into Bighorn Lake to continue to decline. To slow and control the evacuation rate of storage in the exclusive flood pool, the release change originally scheduled for June 14 is hereby revised as shown below. Releases to the Bighorn River may vary as they are maintained at rates necessary to maintain daily generation at the Yellowtail powerplant near 250 MW-Hrs/day and the Afterbay level near elevation 3190.Essentially, instead of releases dropping to 7,800cfs on Tuesday, they’ll drop to 7,500cfs.