WAPA project update, July 31, 2012

This afternoon several Friends of the Bighorn River attended the scheduled Reclamation conference call. The most important topic of discussion was the WAPA project I mentioned yesterday concerning routing water around the turbines in order to move some power lines at the dam. The project is scheduled to commence in two weeks on August 13th and last about 8 to 10 days. During that call Dan Jewell indicated he would consult with WAPA to see if they would consider postponing the project until next month. We asked Dan if the project is still scheduled to proceed on August 13th, and he indicated it was. We also said we strongly favor postponing the project until fall. After consulting with FWP fishery biologists, we decided the risks of undergoing this project this month or next month are just too great. With lake water temperatures already well into the 70’s, a slight mistake, miscalculation or unplanned natural or man-made event could have long lasting, devastating effects on the river where fish are already highly stressed from anglers, low flows, gas bubble trauma, irrigation return, warm water and habitat loss. It is important to act now to postpone this project before contractors and other project assets are put in place making postponement more difficult. Friends of the Bighorn River would like to ask you to IMMEDIATELY email Reclamation Area Manager Dan Jewell and Facilities Manager Steve Davies and ask them to DEFINITIVELY POSTPONE the project until at least the MIDDLE OF SEPTEMBER when potential risk factors are much, much lower. (Email addresses listed below). We also would ask you to copy Gary Hammond, Region 5 Supervisor for FWP, Senator Max Baucus’ staff, Senator Jon Testor’s staff and Congressman Denny Rehberg’s staff to show your support for the protection of the Bighorn River, its fishery and its river economy.Thank you so much, and watch this site for further updates!

WAPA project causes concern

Thanks to several alert friends of the Bighorn River, it came to my attention over the weekend that Reclamation is preparing for a WAPA project that would move power lines attached to the main dam to a location where the lines would not be affected by ice during the winter. This project would require that power generation be halted, which would require water be directed around the turbines. The project is estimated to take between one and two weeks to complete and is scheduled to begin in just two weeks (around August 14th). Instead of drawing cold water from deeper lake elevations, water would be directed either through the holo-jets, which have been shown to increase nitrogen super-saturation, or down the spillway at higher elevations, which may cause water temperature issues, or a combination of both.On Friday, July 27, without clearly stating its purpose, Reclamation ran some tests to measure PSAT and water temps from the various outlets. The results of those tests are promised tomorrow, along with Reclamation’s plan for implementing this project. Reclamation has assured me that this project will not be completed if it will endanger the fishery. At this point, it appears Dan Jewell will have the final word on whether or not this project will proceed.Given the number of factors involved and the recent track record of special projects that seem to find a way to go awry, I am understandably nervous about this project. I have spoken at length with Ken Frazer and Mike Ruggles of FWP and they, too, have expressed similar concerns, as has the Department of Environmental Quality. The low flows coupled with already increased water temperatures, angling pressure, and nitrogen/oxygen super-saturation issues have already taken a heavy toll on trout populations and habitat. Even slight increases of water temperatures and/or gas super-saturation can quickly and dramatically harm the fishery, and that’s providing everything goes off as planned. Unforeseen events, such as miscommunications with Casper Center (which has happened before) or a whirlpool suddenly drawing in warm surface water at the spillway could ruin the fishery for the rest of the summer.At this point, I think the best plan of action is to evaluate the results of Friday’s tests, review Reclamation’s plan and then seek the counsel of Ken and Mike. Unless they approve of Reclamation’s plan whole-heartedly, we may need to make a strong and concerted effort to get his project postponed; an effort on a level not unlike what you and other river advocates did to postpone the Park Service maintenance project last year.As always, I will pass along further information as it becomes available. A special thanks to John Sindland, Zoe Opie and Jeff Buszmann for the heads up!

Dang! Its starting…

[From the Billings Gazette]Extended dry weather is prompting state wildlife officials to impose afternoon and evening fishing restrictions on three central Montana rivers.The so-called hoot-owl closures begin Friday on portions of the Dearborn, Smith and Sun rivers. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks’ drought policy calls for fishing closures when maximum daily water temperatures reach at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days. State officials say water temperatures of 77 degrees or higher can be lethal to rainbow and brown trout, which prefer temperatures in the mid-50s.In a related step, the state plans to tell the owners of 37 water rights in the Smith River basin that they must stop diverting water from the river. Officials say that will help protect the fishery.