U.S. Water News Online
LOVELL, Wyoming -- Sandy gullies and endless sagebrush
offer little hint of the watersports mecca once envisioned for this
small town near the Montana line.
Back when the Bighorn River flowed strongly out of the Wind River
mountains, it backed up 72-miles from the Yellowtail Dam in Montana
south to the outskirts of Lovell -- a man-made lake that once drew
almost half a million visitors annually.
But for eight years drought has choked the river, chopping 30
miles off Bighorn Lake in recent summers and prompting tourists to go
elsewhere. And now a U.S. senator from Montana -- anxious to tap the
reservoir to feed a downstream trout fishery -- could end Lovell's
recreational plans for good.
Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Democrat Max Baucus, has
introduced legislation to ensure a steady flow of water out of
Yellowtail Dam, further depleting the lake.
The bill stakes out yet another front in the water wars breaking
out across the Northern Plains.
As the worst dry spell since the 1930s shows no signs of abating,
many states are squabbling with each other and federal officials.
Nebraska and Kansas are wrangling for control of irrigation water
from the Republican River. South Dakota has demanded the Army Corps
of Engineers stop drawing down reservoirs in the state because it is
hurting recreational fishing. Barge companies along the Missouri
River in Iowa are demanding the Corps release more water so their
vessels can operate.
And Wyoming and Montana are fighting two more water battles in the
Tongue and Powder river basins. Montana officials claim Wyoming is
diverting too much water from the rivers before they cross the state
line, sparking a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit.
The crisis is a bitter pill for Lovell residents, such as
84-year-old Hermina "Minnie"Gams, who was among 73 families forced to
give up 30,870 acres of farmland in the 1960s to make way for the
"The only thing that I think will help is more snow and more
rain,"she said. "I don't think anything that mankind can do will help
Big Horn County Commissioner Keith Grant points to promises made
by federal officials before the construction of Yellowtail Dam.
"They made those promises and they need to come out and do the
full development like they promised,"he said. "If they're not going
to do it, they should give the land back and it can be put back into
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