October 31, 2016
Another major man-made river disaster has occurred in the greater Yellowstone region, this time on the Shoshone River near Cody, WY. The Shoshone River holds a Blue-Ribbon quality status designation as a trout fishing resource.
Wyoming Public Media reports, "The Shoshone River east of Cody is choked with mud for miles. Wyoming's Game and Fish fisheries biologist is investigating for massive fish kills. The sediment release apparently happened when Willwood Irrigation workers flushed water from the Willwood Dam between Cody and Powell."
"Award-winning conservationist David Sweet calls the spill an environmental disaster. He said tons of silt deposited behind the dam for decades has dumped into the river, killing tens of thousand of fish for miles."
"He explained, "This sediment that's flowing down this river has choked out the fishery, obviously for many many miles downstream from this location. There's probably not a fish alive from here downstream for 40 or 50 miles."
Spokespersons from both the Willwood Irrigation District and the Wyoming State Department of Fisheries had not responded to media inquires as of Oct. 24. Video coverage of the spill has also been aired on local television.
The Shoshone has a turbulent geologic history, running through some of the most active volcanic strata in North America. Wikipedia cites the following description of the river:
"West of Cody the river is impounded in Shoshone Canyon by the Buffalo Bill Dam, created as part of the Shoshone project; one of the nation's first water conservation projects. A number of hot springs along the Shoshone were drowned by the reservoir. Upstream of Buffalo Bill Reservoir the Shoshone splits into the North Fork, which follows a long canyon down from the Absaroka Mountains to the vicinity of the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, and the South Fork, which originates at the southern end of the Absarokas.
Earlier this spring, a volcanic vent was noted by sharp-eyed locals as having opened up in the river itself, sending significant amounts of discolored and sulfurous water downstream in a four day event. The Billings Gazette reported on the occurrence, "The Cody region was once called Colter's Hell in memory of early explorer and trapper John Colter. He visited the region in the early 1800s after finishing a cross-country trek with two guys named Lewis and Clark. Colter noted the Cody-area geysers, hot springs and sulfurous smelling river and he told others. Back then the Shoshone River was known as the Stinkingwater or Stinking river for its sulfurous smell."
The Shoshone has proven itself to be a durable fishery given it's unusual and unstable geology. Hopefully, it can weather this latest water quality event with historical resiliency while we wait for officials to make comment on details of the incident.