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The North Platte is running lower than normal. Here's why.
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The North Platte is running lower than normal. Here's why.

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People walking the North Platte River trails in Casper might have noticed recently that water levels seem unusually low. As the river winds through the city, rocks and boulders that are normally submerged are now exposed.

The river often crests this time of year as temperatures heat up and snowmelt flows into the North Platte’s reservoir system. It’s not unusual for the river to flow through Casper at 2,000 cubic feet per second — and sometimes triple that amount during wet years.

On Friday, the river in Casper was running at only a fraction of that — 500 cubic feet per second — according to river gauge data collected by the National Weather Service. That’s because the Bureau of Reclamation is releasing less water from the upstream Gray Reef Dam near Alcova due to higher-than-average water levels downstream at Guernsey Reservoir.

Heavy snows fell over central Wyoming in an historic mid-March storm. That storm resulted in more water coming into Glendo, and officials at the bureau wanted to release less water upstream to compensate, explained Michael Follum, chief of the Water and Civil Works Branch of the bureau’s Wyoming area office.

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“That allows us to save the water for irrigation and power generation later on,” he said. “Our main goal was to make sure that we weren’t sending more water than we needed downstream toward Guernsey.”

The bureau expects to increase releases at Gray Reef this month to about 2,600 cubic feet per second, the agency says.

Normal operations are changing elsewhere along the river as well. Seminoe Reservoir — Wyoming’s furthest upstream reservoir on the North Platte — is now releasing water at a rate of 2,600 cubic feet per second. In mid-July, that number is expected to be reduced to between 530 and 1,000 cubic feet per second, according to the bureau. The change will allow for maintenance work at the Seminoe Power Plant.

Meanwhile, the amount of water released from the downstream reservoirs at Glendo and Guernsey is expected to drop considerably this month to conserve water. The typical releases will resume later in June.

The bureau advises boaters and others on the water to note the changing river flows and take appropriate precautions.


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Joshua Wolfson joined the Star-Tribune in 2007, covering crime and health before taking over the arts section in 2013. He also served as managing editor before being named editor in June 2017. He lives in Casper with his wife and their two kids.

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