Plans for Willwood Dam released, public comment welcome - | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Plans for Willwood Dam released, public comment welcome

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A year after a sediment release killed fish in the Shoshone River, state and federal officials presented a plan to the public in Cody. A Department of Environmental Quality spokesman said he hopes to prevent future spills with regular sediment releases. But, hunters are already upset.

October, 2016, the Shoshone River below the Willwood Dam near Cody turned chocolate brown. Tires and debris dotted the river, and dead fish floated up to the river banks. Anglers, a homeowner, and an outfitter complained about the contamination.

As he stood on the bridge over the dam, Dave Sweet commented, “This sediment that’s flowing down this river has choked out the fishery for many, many miles.”

The DEQ issued violation notices to the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the dam and to the Willwood Irrigation District. The district manager released the sediment filled water from a reservoir for dam repairs.

Wyoming’s Game and Fish fisheries biologist did surveys to find out how many fish were killed. DEQ representatives, along with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and United States Geological Survey spokesmen, presented their study findings.

They told the audience more study is needed to find out where the sediment is coming from. Meanwhile, a DEQ plan aims to clear out some of the sediment behind the dam with smaller, regular releases.

DEQ Water Quality Division representative David Waterstreet said, “There is a potential that we may be able to change operations at the dam, choose the time frames when the releases occur, so that we can actually begin reducing that sediment behind the dam.”

But, this year’s October reservoir draw down, and sediment release angered hunters. Josh George said it eliminated public access, and the ducks and geese left.

He explained, “My whole life hunting there, you couldn’t even sneak into the area without scaring up thousands of birds. Lots of waterfowl. And now, none of them are staying there. They’re just going south because the habitat basically has been destroyed.

Angler Dave Sweet suggested an irrigation diversion higher upstream might eliminate the need for the 90 year old dam.

He pointed out, “We jeopardize the fishery to reduce sediment. We jeopardize duck hunting so that we can pull down the pool early, so we can get decent brown trout spawning. There’s so many issues, and the problem is the location of the Willwood Dam. It’s in the wrong place.”

Waterstreet welcomed the comments, and asked people to comment on the Willwood plan, which is on the DEQ website.

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