The Bureau of Reclamation manages ten reservoirs in the upper Snake River Basin. At full pool, those lakes contain more than four million acre feet of water gathered from the western slopes of the continental divide in Wyoming and Idaho. The challenge the Bureau faces every spring is how to capture melting snowpack and dispense it evenly so that the competing needs of irrigation, recreation, and consumption are all met. That’s easier said than done and timing is everything.
Imagine twenty thousand basketballs coming out of a dam every second. That’s the rough equivalent of the water volume measured in cubic feet per second (cfs) the Bureau was releasing into the South Fork of the Snake River from Palisades Reservoir when we put on Thursday morning. By comparison, the average summertime flow is around twelve thousand—enough to keep cold water pouring over the gravelly river bottom sustaining aquatic life while allowing for the five thousand cfs local farmers divert to grow barley, alfalfa, and their famous potatoes.
Runoff has peaked and by the time we took out at the Spring Creek bridge in Swan Valley, the Bureau had tightened up the spigot, cutting the flows by ten percent. They dropped it again last night. And if the fishing the last two days is any indicator, the trout seem to be really happy with declining flows and improving clarity. And they’re happy because the insects they eat are happy too. Yellow Sallies, Pale Morning Duns, Blue Winged Olives, and a variety of Caddis were all out in the canyon yesterday fluttering among the cottonwood fluff making it look like a summer snowstorm. Fish were holding right where we expected to find them, in deep runs, behind ledges, and in soft water. And they looked healthy, their bellies full and getting fuller, grateful as we are, for the warmer days ahead.
In the years I’ve lived in Teton Valley, I don’t remember seeing so much life and so much greenery, so many young calves in the fields north of my house, so many Sandhill cranes squawking happily in the tall grass, so many wildflowers of every color in the palette. It’s more than I can put a finger on, but every sense is telling me it’s going to be a good season. There is plenty of water, a valley full of good friends, and a summer’s worth of opportunities to show visitors what a special place this is.