More than a month has passed since work on a decrepit diversion dam sent a trout-killing mud slurry into Wyoming’s Shoshone River. And so far, the lethal discharge is still flowing strong.
Kirk Bollinger, whose 8-acre property is located 2 miles below the Willwood Dam project, says, “Today it looks just as bad as it did on day one. It’s still a slurry of mud coming through. There’s no visibility. And it’s still too thick for game and fish to properly shock [the river] and assess damages.”
When the water clears, anglers may be looking at a near total fish kill in the 12-mile stretch between the dam and Powell, WY, which typically holds 1,200 trout per mile. When that’ll happen, remains unknown.
Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in October issued Willwood Irrigation District (the dam operators) and the Bureau of Reclamation (the dam owners) a notice of violation, accusing both parties of breaching 32 counts of Wyoming’s surface water quality standards. DEQ has also threatened to refer the violation to the State Attorney General’s office, requesting a suit be filed in district court to “recover appropriate penalties.”
Country commissioners in Powell recently held a public meeting to address the ongoing situation. More than 150 anglers and concerned citizens attended, including Cody-based guide Scott Sweebe. “The gist of it is they’re doing nothing,” Sweebe says. “No plan on cleaning up the river was even discussed. Most of the talk was about long term plans to maybe try and do something about sedimentation, but not one official was willing to take the lead at any level to get started in that direction.”
Officials at the meeting included representatives from DEQ, Wyoming Game and Fish, Willwood Irrigation District, and the Bureau of Reclamation. County commissioners noted that they’ve sent a formal letter to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, requesting a special council to examine the mess.
Meantime, during a time when browns spawn and BWOs would normally hatch in clouds over the Shoshone, Bollinger has stowed his rods in order to focus on removing discarded tires from the trashed river. He says a flushing flow from Buffalo Bill Reservoir has been discussed as a potential solution, but that water, in Wyoming, is spoken for and hard to get.
“The problem is it’s becoming a farmers versus sportsmen issue, and it shouldn’t be,” Bollinger says. “If we do it right, you can provide clean irrigation water and still have a clean river.”
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.