Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Bighorn River Management Analysis Will Be Done by Fall, Bureau of Reclamation Says

Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Bighorn River Management Analysis Will Be Done by Fall, Bureau of Reclamation Says

Article excerpt

Driftwood collects in coves and along the shoreline, floated up and off a bank somewhere upstream as the spring water rises at Bighorn Reservoir in 2011. BRETT FRENCH,Gazette Staff

By next fall, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Montana staff is hoping to have fine-tuned a modeling program capable of telling the agency how well it is operating Yellowtail Dam on Bighorn Reservoir.

“This is a very complex question,” said Steve Davies, area manager of the bureau, during a meeting of user groups in Billings on Tuesday.

“We need to sort out the hydrology.”

At issue is the bureau’s operating criteria, instituted in 2010 after two years of development. The criteria uses forecasts of snowpack, runoff and rainfall to try and predict how much water to keep in Bighorn Reservoir and how much to release downstream into the popular Bighorn River trout fishery.

Since this winter the bureau has faced a full-court press from the Bighorn River Alliance — a user group of landowners, fishing guides and outfitters — who compiled a report that argues the operating criteria are flawed. The criteria, the Alliance claims, are wasting water that could be used for power generation, result in high river flows that is eroding valuable agricultural land, washing trout eggs downstream, and favors reservoir users over river operations by holding back water too late, and then releasing too much at high flows.

The Alliance has received backing from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester to turn up the heat on the Bureau of Reclamation.

Since the 70-mile long reservoir straddles the Wyoming-Montana border, users on the southern end in Wyoming would rather have the lake level high enough to launch and float their boats, preferably at Horseshoe Bend Marina, which has more services and amenities and is closer to the town of Lovell, Wyoming. That constituency argues that the criteria is working, for the most part, except in extreme water years. …

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