Opinion by Bureau of Reclamation
Wyoming’s Water Situation Impacts Lands
Water and Land Division Coordinator Mahonri Williams, Sandy Hoard, Wyoming Area Manager Coleman Smith, Bureau of Reclamation
In the June 30th edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Dallas Mount, the Southeast Wyoming Extension educator, commented, “We are thick in the throes of another drought this year. Many of the old timers I speak with say this one is the worst they have seen.” Well, Dallas and the old timers are pretty much spot on.
The water supply conditions in the spring and early summer of 2012 present a stark contrast to the record-setting conditions we saw last year. In 2011 Seminoe Reservoir in the North Platte River basin had an all-time record April-July inflow of 1,969,400 acre-feet (an acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons). Compared to last year’s record and a 30-year average of 769,600 acre-feet, the April-July inflow so far this year has been only approximately 250,000 acre-feet, with relatively little additional runoff expected for the rest of July. Though we won’t know until the end of the month, this year may end up having the second lowest April-July Seminoe inflow in the last 30 years. The dry spring and early summer have also resulted in a high irrigation demand. Fortunately, the North Platte River reservoir system had good carry-over storage from last year’s record inflows, and a full irrigation supply is expected this year.
Similarly, Boysen Reservoir on the Wind River had a 2011 April-July inflow of 994,700 acre-feet, which was well above the 30-year average of 574,400 acre-feet. To date, the April-July Boysen inflow has only been approximately 200,000 acre-feet, with relatively little additional runoff expected. However, the good carry-over storage in Boysen Reservoir from last year will help provide a full water supply for irrigators downstream of Boysen this summer.
Buffalo Bill Reservoir also had a record inflow in 2011 of 1,230,400 acre-feet, compared to an average April-July inflow of 679,300 acre-feet. This year the April-July inflow has been trending below average (approximately 539,000 acre-feet so far), but it has been much closer to average than Boysen and the North Platte system. Buffalo Bill Reservoir is currently near full, and a full water supply is expected for water users downstream.
In all three river basins described above, there will continue to be heavy irrigation demands relying on reservoir storage for the rest of the summer. Carry-over storage this fall is expected to be lower than last year. Should the dry conditions persist into subsequent years (as they have a tendency to do), water users are encouraged to implement measures that will conserve available water supplies.
With hot and dry conditions throughout the state of Wyoming, wildfire season has come early this summer. A wildfire near Guernsey Reservoir in June burned almost 2,700 acres, most of which is Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) land managed by Wyoming State Parks as part of Guernsey State Park. BuRec recreation management partners have instituted fire restrictions. For information on fire restrictions at state parks associated with BuRec Reservoirs, please see the State Parks website at wyoparks.state.wy.us.
Natrona County manages recreation on BuRec lands at Gray Reef, Alcova and Pathfinder Reservoirs. County fire restrictions are provided at wy.blm.gov/wy_fire_restrictions/state_county.htm. County fire restrictions also apply at the BuRec managed recreation areas, which include Miracle Mile, Pilot Butte Reservoir, and Deaver Reservoir. No open fires are allowed on BuRec managed lands at the upstream end of Glendo Reservoir. Use or possession of fireworks is prohibited on all BuRec lands per 43 CFR Part 423.30. Considering the high danger of wildfire throughout the state, recreationists are encouraged to be responsible in their recreational activities and follow all fire restrictions.
BuRec is also committed to maintaining safe and reliable facilities, and BuRec’s evaluation of the hydrology of extreme flood events for Glendo Reservoir resulted in the design of a new auxiliary spillway at Glendo Dam and additional modifications to Glendo Dam and Dikes. Construction work on this project began in the fall of 2010 and is ongoing. The construction of the spillway is expected to be completed at the end of this summer. Additional construction will follow with work on Glendo Dam this fall and winter and later work on the Glendo Dikes.
Similarly, BuRec identified the need to modify Guernsey Dam and its south spillway. Construction at Guernsey Dam is expected to begin this fall and continue into the spring of 2014. This planned construction will result in reduced reservoir levels at Guernsey Reservoir during the summer of 2013.
At Fremont Canyon Powerplant, BuRec is completing the installation of a new turbine for one of the generating units. The second turbine will be replaced starting this fall. These new turbines will provide more efficient and reliable operation for both units.
The Wyoming Area Office (WYAO) of the BuRec operates reservoirs on the North Platte, Wind and Shoshone Rivers. There are seven BuRec reservoirs on the North Platte River: Seminoe, Kortes, Pathfinder, Alcova, Gray Reef, Glendo and Guernsey. Boysen Reservoir is on the Wind River, and Buffalo Bill Reservoir is on the Shoshone River. Other BuRec constructed reservoirs and irrigation facilities are operated by irrigation districts. Collectively, the BuRec reservoirs provide irrigation water to approximately a half million acres of farm land in northern, central and eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. WYAO operates 12 hydroelectric power plants with a combined capacity of approximately 290 megawatts. Additional benefits provided by BuRec’s reservoirs include flood control, recreation, fish and wildlife and municipal and industrial water supply.