Early river releases begin
The Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from the North Platte River reservoir system on Tuesday in preparation for above-average spring runoff.
Federal officials want to create space in the already-swollen system before the snowpack that feeds it begins to melt. They hope to avoid the problems experienced last year when late spring storms led to downstream flooding after temperatures rose over the summer.
The bureau hasn’t released water this early along the North Platte since 1998.
“We just don’t have the storage space,” said BuRec Wyoming Area Manager John Lawson. “We can’t wait and expect to release the water later, because if we do, we would have to release water at a much higher flow, and that would create impacts downstream.”
After three above-average water years, the reservoir system that runs from Seminoe to Guernsey is already storing 2.2 million acre feet of water. It normally contains 1.5 million acre feet.
The snowpack that feeds the upper reaches of the system is 136 percent above average. When it melts, officials expect spring and summer flows into Seminoe to rival last year — when runoff filled reservoirs to historic levels.
“We are taking a pre-emptive strike,” Lawson said.
The early-season releases began Tuesday at Glendo Reservoir. Releases from Guernsey Reservoir will follow next week.
The bureau plans to release 400,000 acre feet out of the system in March and April, Lawson said. That’s enough to fill Guernsey Reservoir nine times.
The early-season releases will create higher river levels than normal for this time of year in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.
The bureau had intended to start releasing more water out of Gray Reef Reservoir today. But icy conditions and below-freezing forecasts postponed those plans for a few weeks.
Releasing more water now could cause ice jams and flooding, Lawson said.
Postponing the Gray Reef releases will force officials to send more water downstream later on. But those flows will still be well below the volume of the North Platte during the summer months.