Has Bighorn water management really changed?

Folks, if you have a minute, I’d like you to take a look at something that illustrates some of the problems I’ve been trying to relate since Reclamation implemented the new operating criteria.

This first graph shows us the average lake elevations and river releases for the last 7 years. A few things stand out. First, on average, Reclamation starts each water year on Oct 1 with pretty close to a full lake. That’s seems nice. Second, on average, Reclamation takes the lake well into the flood pool. That’s not so nice if you happen to recreate on the north end of the lake. Thirdly, on average, the lake elevation only drops to 3,618ft. Wow! That’s really sweet if you boat at the south end of the lake and most certainly a coincidence that the minimum boat launch elevation was 3,617ft at that time! Fourth, the river is at or below minimums for half the year, hanging on for dear life for four weeks while the flows climb and ruin the rainbow spawn and flush out the brown fry, then endure high water cancellations for a month, followed by waiting out nearly two months of flows dropping back to minimums as the algae starts to take hold. Makes a person be glad winter has finally come.

Combined 7yr-avg-2008-2015


Next we have a graph of the same information, but this time the the date range is from 1991 to 1998. At a glance, they two graphs look a lot alike. However, look at the Y axes on the left and right on both graphs. Let’s look first at the lake elevation on the left sides. On the graph below, you’ll see Reclamation used to start the water year about three feet lower that they do now. That sounds scary. But wait! Here’s where things get interesting. Follow the lake elevation down and you’ll see, on average, it bottoms out at 3,609ft. That’s a whole 9 feet lower than how they’re managing the lake now. That has to be bad, right? Hmmm… looking at the river releases, they’re above minimums and even mostly well above minimums. That’s definitely good! Hold on! The peak release is also lower. Clients don’t cancel when flows are under 6,000cfs, so that’s good, too! Come to think of it, the banks aren’t caving in either, so that’s another plus.  But if the river is getting all that love, it must mean the other stakeholders are getting screwed, right? No, the lake elevation, on average, was nearly 3,620ft on Memorial Day and there was plenty of water during the summer, so the south end is happy. Surely the hydropower folks are screwed, right? Nope. More water in the river means more water went through the turbines. Stakeholders are happy and Reclamation has met its obligation to provide flood control, irrigation, hydropower, recreation and fisheries. Come to think of it, no one was bitching from either end of the lake back then. Little wonder.

Combined 7yr-avg-1991-1998


We’ve now had enough years to evaluate the success or failure of the new operating criteria. One could argue that the criteria hasn’t been fully tested because its never been completely followed. Just this spring the March target specified in the criteria was missed by 9 feet. Whether that miss was intentional or simply pilot error, the new operating criteria ain’t cutting the mustard. Since the criteria, we’ve seen river flows in excess of 8,000cfs six times in eight years. You have to go back 26 years prior to that before you’ll find another six years of flows over 8,000cfs.

Please join me in asking Reclamation to return to sensible and balanced water management and end this cycle of overly conservative water management.

Bighorn releases to reach minimums on Saturday

After setting records for inflows just weeks ago, and within minutes of leaving the flood pool for a full lake, Reclamation will be reducing releases to 2,500cfs… the minimum flows required to sustain the fishery.

On Friday at 8am, releases will be dropped 250cfs from 3,500cfs to 3,250cfs.
On Friday at 4pm, releases will be dropped 250cfs from 3,250cfs to 3,000cfs.

On Saturday at 8am, releases will be dropped 250cfs from 3,000cfs to 2,750cfs.
On Saturday at 4pm, releases will be dropped 250cfs from 2,750cfs to 2,500cfs.

Sorry, folks.

Bighorn releases to drop to 4,500cfs on Friday

I’m going to try and get some weekday fishing in tomorrow, so I’m posting Reclamation’s unofficial plans for the rest of the week now.  If things change I’ll try and update this page, but you can always check this page for near real-time data.

Today at 3pm, releases will drop 500cfs from 5,500cfs to 5,000cfs.

Friday morning, releases will drop 500cfs from 5,000cfs to 4,500cfs.

Have a great weekend!