Flows dropping from 2,500cfs to 2,000cfs

The Bureau of Reclamation requested and held a conference call today to discuss the dire inflow forecast, and to consider further cuts to river releases.In a letter to Reclamation before the conference call, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologists Ken Frazer and Mike Ruggles agreed that given the bleak and rapidly deteriorating inflow forecasts, eventual cuts in river releases will need to be made. With the releases currently at 2,500cfs, they are focusing on 2,000cfs, which is the next identified inflection point where side channel habitat is lost at an accelerated rate once river flows fall below this level. They believe it is more important to ensure that river flows remain at or above this flow level through the spring and summer rather than try and dictate exactly when reductions should be made. Potential impacts to the fishery and food production on the river will be essentially the same if flows are reduced to their lowest level tomorrow or in 3 weeks so it is more important to plan for long term flows rather than look at short term gains. Since forecasting indicates river releases will eventually have to be dropped to 2,000cfs, FWP feels it would be better to drop to this level right away rather than wait and thus hopefully preempt the need to drop below 2,000cfs in the future.According to Reclamation, should the forecast occur as predicted, the lake would fall short of filling by as much as five or ten feet. River releases would remain at 2,000cfs throughout the summer and in to the fall, and lake elevations would be dramatically lower than the previous two years heading in to winter. Minimum and maximum lake elevations requested by the Park Service would not be met. Reclamation did not that forecasts rarely materialize exactly as predicted.While we feel the river is certainly making the lion’s share of the sacrifice, Reclamation’s proposed operating plan does appear to impact lake recreation. Surprisingly, this is the first year Reclamation’s Area Manager Dan Jewell has not insisted on filling the lake at all costs, and this is certainly cause for some celebration. We did reiterate to Dan that any cuts in releases below 2,000cfs would not be tolerated without significant reductions is storage. Notably absent from the conference call was any representative from the Park Service or Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. We were not able to question whether or not they have revised their lake level recommendations given the dire forecast.Update 4:20pm: Tomorrow morning at 8am, flows will drop from 2,500cfs to 2,325cfs; on Thursday at 8am flows will drop from 2,325cfs to 2,150cfs; and later on Thursday drop from 2,150cfs to 2,000cfs.

Getting ready for the floods

By Nancy Gaarder and Elizabeth AhlinWORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITERSPublished Friday February 19, 2010(Excerpt) It’s been a long, brutal winter, and people need to be prepared for widespread flooding if they live near a major river, said Doug Clemetson, chief of hydrology for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha. Clemetson said there is a high probability of moderate to major flooding in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, and northward into Minnesota and the Dakotas. Parts of the Dakotas could see record flooding, he said. However, Clemetson and others point out that no one really knows yet just what might happen. A slow snow melt would help immeasurably. A rapid melt, accompanied by early rainstorms, could be disastrous.

Bighorn River and WAPA positioned to be big losers again this year

Its that time of year again. You know, when Reclamation dangles that carrot in front of our noses and tells river users that sacrificing now will put us all in a better position come fall. The problem is the payoff never really comes unless you subscribe to Reclamation’s idea of payoff is not cutting river flows to 1,500cfs or lower. Common sense suggests that the payoff also comes when we’re not seeing releases over 8,000cfs as well, and both lake and river enthusiasts share the risk equitably.Granted, the forecast does look bleak, with only 60% of normal runoff predicted. Granted, we’d expect and understand flow reductions. Accordingly, one would imagine lake elevations to drop to minimums or below as well, right? Wrong. Reclamation indicated today that should the current forecast hold up and, combined with cuts in river releases to 2,500cfs, the lake elevation would reach its lowest point at 3,626ft. You heard right. 3,626ft. A full seven feet higher than last year’s good water year and only 14 feet below the top of the conservation pool. I’m sure lake users are celebrating, as well they should! Keep this up and they’ll be praying for drought every year. Imagine a lake elevation of 3,626ft for Memorial Day! Those four water skiers must be estatic! I see a shrine going up in Lovell to the Twenty Foot Window.What does this mean for the river and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA)? It means, if conditions worsen, we’ll see even sharper decreases in releases in a effort to maintain lake elevation and lower power generation revenues despite a relatively full lake. If conditions improve, we’ll see high discharges, flooding, water bypassing the turbines, and millions lost in power revenues again. If conditions do come in as forecast, the river will stay at bare minimums with low power generation, while the lake fills to just shy of the top of the conservation pool. It looks like the river and WAPA are once again shouldering the risk, and will be the big losers again this year.

Snowpack currently 8th lowest in 50 years

According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, today’s snowpack in the region is the eighth lowest in the last 50 years. The CPC is calling this event a strong and mature El Nino that could last well in to spring.While there is still opportunity to accrue snowpack, this does not bode well for neither lake interests nor river interests on the Bighorn. It is anticpated that the Bureau of Reclamation will act accordingly. Friends of the Bighorn River understands river releases may need to be reduced in the coming months, but reminds Reclamation that risks amongst recreationists must be shared equitably.