Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Fort Smith landowner takes issue with high water releases geared to Wyo. boat ramp

Guest column
I am a landowner living below the Yellowtail Dam in Fort Smith and represent a lot of folks who also live, work and recreate below the dam. Over the last 10 years, we have been adversely affected by high river releases which have been occurring annually. 
The major reason for these extraordinary high releases is the National Park Service’s request to the Bureau of Reclamation to maintain high lake elevation so that boats can be launched at the infrequently used Horseshoe Bend boat ramp near Lovell, Wyo. This request by the NPS robs the lake of adequate storage for the spring precipitation and snowmelt.
The National Park Service requested that the Bureau of Reclamation operate the dam level at a minimum of 3,620 feet, allowing boats to be launched from the Horseshoe Bend boat ramp by Memorial Day. 
It’s incomprehensible that the infrequently-used Horseshoe Bend boat ramp is the only stakeholder the National Park Service recognizes as having a viable stake in the operations of the Yellowtail Dam. This National Park Service request has negatively impacted all of the stakeholders living below the dam and those who recreate on the north end of the dam. It has caused property and economic damage, impacting all of the river users, property owners, ranchers and impacting the hydro power income. Also, Black Canyon campground has been closed recently due to high lake levels. This has almost become an annual occurrence.
This request was put into writing in 2008 and has put the BOR in a very tough spot. They are required under the Flood Control Act of 1944 – also known as the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program – to manage these dams for flood control, irrigation and power generation, not lake recreation. However, the BOR is also required to work with other government agencies when possible. This request by the NPS has caused high water releases in the spring for a sustained period of time over the last 10 years. This request of the National Park Service needs to be rescinded so the Yellowtail Dam can be managed by the BOR for its true purposes.
The infrequently-used Horseshoe Bend boat ramp has already exceeded its lifespan under the National Park Service’s own study. This report is the Water Resources Management Plan for the Bighorn Canyon Bighorn Recreation Area 1996, approved by Superintendent Darrell Cook on March 26, 1999. Ironically, operating the lake at these high levels causes more silt to be deposited at Horseshoe Bend, causing an even higher elevation required for operation of the ramp. 
I am requesting two items from the Park Service. The first one is the time frame is for closing Horseshoe Bend and the second is the actual number of use days at Horseshoe Bend compared to the use days at Ok-A-Beh Marina, Black Canyon Campground and Bighorn River below the dam. 
Operating this low-level boat ramp to the total disregard of the destruction of property below the Yellowtail Dam and economic damage to a blue ribbon trout stream is astonishing to all of us who live below the dam. The Bighorn River fishery brings in more than $60 million dollars annually to our Big Horn County – the third poorest county in the United States. There should not be an issue regarding Horseshoe Bend, since only a few miles away a better boat ramp, Berry’s Landing, exists. It actually allows boats to be launched at the same lake elevation as the Ok-A-Beh Marina boat ramp, which is 3,585 feet.
The Park Service has never promoted the Berry’s Landing boat ramp. In fact, a recent newspaper article in the Billings Gazette, quoting the acting park service superintendent, only stated that Horseshoe Bend boat ramp was closed due to low lake elevations. There was no mention of Berry’s Landing being available as alternative to Horseshoe Bend.
I’m not certain why the Montana end of the lake and the promotion of Berry’s Landing has been so neglected by the National Park Service. All one needs to do is go to the Park Service Facebook page to see the discrepancies in promoting the Wyoming end of the lake over the Montana end. The posts promoting the Wyoming end far exceed the posts for the Montana end of the lake.
I, along with other landowners, river business owners and local and federal politicians, would appreciate an opportunity to sit down and discuss these issues with Daniel Noon, acting Superintendent of the National Park Service. I would like him to hear firsthand what the Park Service’s unnecessary high dam operating elevation request has done to the residents below the dam.