Holy cow!Today’s conference call left Yellowtail Dam stakeholders in a state of shock when officials from Wyoming began ranting about being treated unfairly by Reclamation.What started with a simple question posed by Friends of the Bighorn Lake member Bob Croft soon deteriorated into a bizarre and twisted rant fueled by Representative Elaine Harvey, State Engineer Loren Smith, and Big Horn County Commissioner Keith Grant.Representative Harvey, who has been involved with this issue from the beginning and has had years to understand how winter releases work, suddenly decided that more flexibility needs to be added to Reclamation’s already complex forecasts and long range planning. She was apparently distraught that forecasts showed March lake elevations coming in a few feet lower than forecast last month (but still a dozen feet above average). Reading between the lines, she’s asking Reclamation to adjust river flows frequently throughout the winter to make certain forecasted lake elevations come in as predicted. Of course, she’s conveniently ignoring those pesky variables such as precipitation, snowpack and other inflows occurring between now and March play a pivotal role, too. One has to admire Elaine for putting it all out there for her constituents, but jeesh! How ’bout some common sense?Wyoming State Engineer Loren Smith, a typically rational man, chimed in saying Reclamation was treating lake users unfairly. Excuse me? Loren knows better. With river flows below average and below minimums and lake levels above average, forecasts above average and inflows only slightly below average, if anyone is being treated unfairly, its the river. Loren, I’d love to know who put you up to it. Its not like you, man.Big Horn County Commissioner Keith Grant played his usual card, and that was to quote from a decades old Reclamation operations manual. His point was lost when he misinterpreted some historic figures, but we do wish someone would remind him that operations manual was written when it was safe to launch boats at Horseshoe Bend at a lake elevation twenty feet lower than today. Oh well. You and Ken sell boats in Cody and Lovell. Enough said.Friends of the Bighorn River sense a game is afoot. Reclamation hasjust opened the draft modified operating criteria for public comment. The folks in Wyoming, like us in Montana, know the draft criteria is seriously flawed. They know that when the criteria is given an honest and equitable appraisal, it will reveal how lake interests are favored over river interests and hydropower generation, and future criteria will put an end to the costly twenty foot window. Having not shared any risk for the last three years, Wyoming doesn’t relish the idea of losing a few feet of water. With silt choking off the remaining useful life of Horseshoe Bend, they certainly don’t want a return to sensible water management. Why else would sensible people talk nonsense?Reclamation scheduled a follow up conference call for December 17.
As of this morning, snowpack in the Bighorn Basin is at 93% of average, which comes just in time for the monthly conference call!
The Montana Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation has published a draft of their Bighorn Lake Operating Criteria Evaluation Study and Report. They are soliciting comments from a a number of governmental agencies, as well members of the public who are familiar with these issues. You may download a copy of the draft here.They are requesting written comments be received by Reclamation by January 28, 2011, and may be sent to Lenny Duberstein at firstname.lastname@example.orgFriends of the Bighorn River will be submitting comments, and those comments will be posted here. In the meantime, as you read this document, ask yourself these questions: Why has the minimum target lake elevation risen from an historical average of 3,605ft to 3,618ft? What interests are best served by higher lake levels? What interests are hurt by higher lake levels? Why are benefits of the modified operating criteria listed in the report, but not the damaging side effects? Why are results of the modified operating criteria measured against drought years instead of historical averages? How would the modified operating criteria be affected if the Corps of Engineers, for whatever reason, did not permit continued perennial use of the flood pool? How does the modified operating criteria plan to avoid the cycle of minimal to sub-minimal river flows in the fall and winter, and excessive releases in the spring?