While monitoring the river and the lake the last six years, we’ve seen the Yellowtail project experience its share of trials and tribulations. Fuses, light switches, batteries, software, sensors, you name it. Some snafus had serious consequences, others not so serious. While we expect the highest degree of professionalism from the folks at the Montana Area Office, they are human beings after all, and things happen. But when a fuse blows, or a circuit get fried, we appreciate knowing what happened and how it happened, so that we can feel comfortable it won’t happen again. Until recently, when an incident occurred, it was often weeks, and more commonly months, before Reclamation owned up to who was responsible, or even that an incident had occurred. There are still some unanswered question from years ago.
Yesterday, during the regular stakeholders conference call, Steve Davies who moderated the call with MTAO Area Manager Brent Esplin sitting next to him, clearly and succinctly explained what happened, accepted full responsibility, and outlined measures to make sure the incident isn’t repeated. What happened (and please excuse my layman’s explanation) is an old power line that had been out of use for about ten years was rehabilitated and placed back in service to supply power from the main dam to the Afterbay dam. Doing so would allow Reclamation to use hydropower instead of purchasing power. When the line was charged, something happen that blew a circuit board at Afterbay affected automated and/or remote operation. Reacting within minutes, Reclamation had staff in place to operated the gates manually, and kept staff there throughout the night. Outfitter Michael Mastrangelo, standing in the river, reported the incident almost as it happened, and FOBR was in touch with Reclamation until 11pm that night. A similar but much briefer incident occurred the following day, and was dealt with immediately. Since then, operations are back to normal.
This small fluctuation in flows seems to be a relatively minor annoyance, but to a guide or angler on the river, it can ruin an otherwise good day. In this case, river stage increased six inches. While the depth is not that great, the water spreads out quite a good ways on a shallow bank, picking up dead algae and debris and carrying it downstream, where it readily (and seemingly purposely) tangles in fishing line, making it nearly impossible to fish. If your living depends on your clients catching fish, this can ruin a day, put a real dent in your pocketbook and potentially harm return business. Thankfully, because the response what quick and decisive, the inconvenience was limited to a few hours.
Friends of the Bighorn River applauds the efforts of Reclamation and their quick response to this incident. We are particularly pleased with this new and unheralded transparency that helps us feel more like partners rather than bystanders. Hats off to Brent and his crew for a job well done!