The Bighorn River Alliance continues to take issue with the current water management policies of the Bureau of Reclamation Montana Area Office regarding releases from Yellowtail Dam into the Bighorn River. Over the past ten years, the Montana Area Office of the BOR, on recommendation by the National Park Service’s Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, has significantly altered its water management practices with regards to Bighorn Lake and the Yellowtail Dam in order to provide more favorable lake elevations to a small number of lake users in Wyoming, to the detriment of Montana lake and river users. Implementation of new operating criteria has negatively impacted the Bighorn River, and compromised the Bureau’s capability to effectively administer the reservoir for flood control, and at times, hydropower generation. Overly conservative water management practices has resulted in inadequate storage in the reservoir, forcing higher than normal releases to be discharged below Afterbay Dam causing excessive downstream erosion of river banks seriously affecting the agricultural community, negatively impacting the river economy and recreation, and affecting the recruitment of juvenile rainbow trout in the Bighorn trout population.
To address these concerns, the Alliance issued a formal letter of concern to the BOR urgently requesting BOR to 1) immediately start managing the entire reservoir, rather than the upper 20 feet; 2) manage the reservoir to provide a better balance of benefits for all stakeholders rather than primarily those lake users at the southern end of Bighorn Lake; 3) establish better coordination and cooperation with the Wyoming Area Office; and 4) immediately outline steps it is taking to research and implement new policies.
The Alliance appreciate the hard work and dedication of the Bureau of Reclamation, and recognize that managing for multiple uses that are often in direct opposition of Mother Nature is difficult. Nevertheless, we feel BOR continues to favor lake interests in Wyoming over river interests in Montana, despite the overwhelming disparity in numbers of users, economics, accessibility and more importantly long term viability.
The Alliance has requested that the BOR address the concerns at this letter to the community of Fort Smith at an informative meeting scheduled for April 19 at 6:00 PM at the Baptist Church in Fort Smith.