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Bureau of Reclamation lowering North Platte flows this winter due to drought, conservation

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Low water levels expose rocks in the North Platte River on June 4 in Casper. The Bureau of Reclamation will lower the river this winter due to drought and to conserve water. 

The North Platte River will be running lower than usual this winter between Alcova and Glendo, the Bureau of Reclamation said Thursday.

Flows through Gray Reef Dam, the closest upstream dam to Casper, have been affected by drought conditions this year, and will be further limited to conserve water for contract deliveries to irrigation districts and other users planned for 2022.

In a typical year, the bureau decreases flows below the dam to 500 cubic feet per second for the winter, starting in September. This year, it was lowered further to 450 CFS in October to keep more water stored in the larger reservoirs upstream from the dam, including Seminoe and Pathfinder.

Inflows in the upper North Platte were already “uncharacteristically low” between October 2020 and September of this year, the bureau said in a release Thursday. The total carryover was cut to 86% of an average year’s.

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According to the bureau, this slight reduction in winter flows should make it less likely that Glendo Reservoir will need to release more water than needed for deliveries in 2022. The reservoir’s storage is already slightly above average, Thursday’s release said.

It should also better equip reclamation to conduct a flushing flow to benefit trout habitat conditions in the river, if Wyoming Game and Fish requests it. Those requests are typically accommodated as long as the flush doesn’t infringe on the contracted water supply or power generation.

“Basically, we’re preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best,” said Mike Follum, chief of water and civil works for the Wyoming area.

Follum said that the bureau cleared the plan with Game and Fish officials, who indicated that the lower levels would not hurt the river’s fish population.

Most won’t notice a visible difference in the river’s level, Follum said, but there may be certain areas where you’ll be able to see the change.

The flow was also reduced in the spring, Follum said, after a historic March snowstorm dumped more than two feet of snow on the area.

Follow city and crime reporter Ellen Gerst on Twitter at @ellengerst.


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