Grading Reclamation


Following up on an earlier post, here’s how I thought we might grade the job Reclamation is doing in serving its stakeholders:

Operating Plan – An evaluation of how well the Bureau adheres to their own operating criteria and their published operating plan, adjusted, of course, for current and forecasted conditions. Extra credit is given when targets are met and a natural hydrograph is achieved. Demerits are given for prolonged deviations from averages, chronic, abusive and/or unnecessary water orders, overly conservative or liberal water management, negative impacts on the fishery and recreation, and time spent in the flood pool.

Balance – A continued, equitable balance of water between stakeholders will bring the highest grade in this category. Higher grades can be expected when risks are shared all conditions. Special consideration is always given to congressional mandates that include flood mitigation, hydropower generation and irrigation.

Collaboration – A measure of how well the Bureau not only listens to all its stakeholders, but how well and how timely it digests and acts upon the concerns of its stakeholders. Demerits will be given for perfunctory behavior including lip service, unresponsiveness, and smoke blowing, while demonstrated action that reaches beyond words will get extra credit.

In all categories, using typical, seasonal weather events as an excuse for poor performance will unconditionally result in a grade of F.

I welcome your input, ideas, comments and criticisms. Look for the first report card soon!


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of any agency or organization.

River releases to be cut back


Despite having only fifteen feet of storage in the conservation pool, increasing releases just two weeks ago and a lake elevation that is the fourth highest on record for this date, Reclamation has chosen to reduce releases based on “preliminary water supply forecasts”.

On Wednesday, April 1st at 4pm, releases will be reduced from 3,500cfs to 3,250cfs.
On Thursday, April 2nd at 4pm, release will be reduced from 3,250cfs to 3,000cfs.

While Reclamation’s water order did not indicate further reductions, other sources indicate flow reductions to the 2500cfs minimum are imminent unless a major weather event materializes.

As Friends of the Bighorn grows and expands its fight to Helena and Washington in an effort to get the Montana Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation to listen and provide some common sense and balance in its water management policies, I thought it would be interesting to grade the Bureau each month this year in a few key areas that are important to those of us who recreate or make a living on the Bighorn River or Lake. Check this blog for the first report card for March which will be posted in the coming days!

Lastly, a warm welcome to our friends along the Missouri River below Holter, who are suffering the consequences of the same overly conservative water management policies brought to us by the same area office that manages the Bighorn. Thanks for joining the fight folks!

Not unlike last year, river releases to increase again

A short warm spell in February combined with several bizarre, overly conservative operating plans now has Reclamation increasing river releases to evacuate storage. Although with all weather forecasts pointing to average conditions but with lake elevations near record highs for this time of year, we expect either further increases in releases to accompany the next weather event or dramatic cuts upon the first drier-than-normal precipitation forecast.

On Monday, March 16 at 4pm, river releases will increase from 3,200cfs to 3,430cfs.

Is Reclamation listening?


Well, I’ve had it. With lake elevations only inches from being the highest on record for this time in March and conditions all forecast at average or above average, Reclamation is operating for drought and setting the river up for more of the same old headaches. God help us if we get a big spring weather event!

After eight years, Reclamation still aren’t listening to us. After eight years, they still don’t believe its going to rain again. When there’s snow pack, they don’t think its going to come off on time. Now we have a perfectly normal year and they’re setting up for a drought. I can’t take it anymore.

During today’s conference call, I blew a cork, hung up, and sent Reclamation the letter below. I know many of you appreciate river updates, and I promise to continue those as best I can. I just don’t have the strength to attend those unproductive, completely non-collaborative meetings and conference calls anymore.

The time has come to engage our governor, our congressional delegation and bring some national exposure to this issue. All we’re asking for is some balance in water management. They did it in during the first 30 years of dam operations, they can do it again.

I’m sorry. I’ve been an idiot for letting them dupe me into thinking we were making progress and working together. It’ll never happen again and I’ll do my best to make it up to you.

Hang in there, and please continue to support organizations like the Bighorn River Alliance, Magic City Fly Fishers and Montana Trout Unlimited as well as the outfitters, guides, shops and lodges who will help us take this fight forward.




Montana Area Office
Bureau of Reclamation
Reservoir and River Operations


After nearly eight years of working unsuccessfully with the Montana Area Office in the hopes of bringing some balance to the Yellowtail operating criteria, I am disengaging as a stakeholder to focus my time and efforts elsewhere. Since I have been involved, matters are far worse and there is growing evidence that MTAO’s overly conservative water management policy is worsening and impacting other watersheds, namely the Missouri, which along with the Bighorn, comprise two of the three most heavily used rivers in Montana. While I have greatly appreciated the friendships and courtesies MTAO has extended to me over the years, I believe its time to stop playing the dupe, step back and re-engage at a different, more effective, and less personal level.

I may silently attend the usual meetings and conference calls, but only to document issues and waypoints that are important to my friends and colleagues who have come to rely upon my blog for such information not only for recreation but, in some cases, their very livelihoods.

I will not give up my search, however, to understand what is driving MTAO’s desire to manage water so conservatively (and well in excess of the desires of lake users to the south), and why the priority to top out the conservation pool each year to the exclusion of nearly all other interests (including several congressional mandates) is so important. I know I’m not the only taxpayer, angler, outfitter or river advocate who is looking for these answers, and clearly it is time to re-engage the congressional delegation as well as bring some national attention to this concern.


Doug Haacke
Billings, MT
(406) 855-6357

Friends of the Bighorn River, founder
Magic City Fly Fishers, Conservation Director
Montana Trout Unlimited, Executive Committee and Past Chairman