State officials watch, repair 14A causeway as waters rise

As water levels at Big Horn Lake continue to rise, Wyoming Dept. of Transportation officials are keeping a close eye on the situation at the causeway east of Lovell and repairing damage caused by wave action.

WyDOT spokesman Cody Beers said that as of Tuesday, the high water was covering 27½ inches of the iron girders on the bridge across the river channel at the east end of the causeway, and while officials are watching the situation, conditions aren’t worrisome – at least not yet.

“The bridge is fine,” Beers said. “The debris (mostly driftwood) isn’t much of a problem.

“The problem we’ve got is the roadway embankment. There have been a lot of waves (with high winds) beating on the embankment and a lot of erosion on the causeway.”

WyDOT has been hauling rock this week to the causeway and dumping the material behind the guardrails to shore up the embankment, Beers said, noting that, with the high water levels, “when we get wind, we have issues caused by wave action.”

While he said he’s not yet concerned about water going over the top of the highway — U.S. 14A – there are some revised water forecasts that have WyDOT paying attention.

“The water is quite a bit higher,” he said. “At one time the forecast was that it wouldn’t reach the girders, and now it’s 27½ inches into the girders.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as of Tuesday, there was 15,339 cubic feet per second of water flowing into Big Horn Lake and 11,406 cfs flowing out, so the lake was continuing to rise. At 4:15 p.m. Tuesday the lake elevation was 3,653.95 feet, which is still “three to four feet below the roadway,” Beers said.

As of Wednesday morning, the lake elevation was 3,654.20, and according to a National Park Service press release issued late Tuesday, the lake is expected to peak at about 3,657 sometime during the next week, which is the upper end of the flood pool, and may continue at high levels “throughout the month.”

Meanwhile, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is continuing to deal with high water levels on Big Horn Lake. With lake levels expected to reach the upper end of the flood pool, many docks and campgrounds will remain inaccessible until lake levels drop.

Here is the current status of campgrounds and other facilities on Big Horn Lake, according to Tuesday’s Bighorn Canyon NRA press release:

• The concession docks at Horseshoe Bend have been pulled and will be reinstalled when water levels drop.

• The north end Kane boat ramps are closed due to driftwood accumulation and high water hydraulics creating a hazard.

• Medicine Creek Campground is closed.

• Black Canyon Campground on the north end of the lake is closed due to flooded campsites and will continue to be closed until further notice. Please check with a ranger or at the park visitor center for updates.

• The docks and floating restrooms in Black Canyon will still be accessible.

• The swim beach at Ok-A-Beh is closed until further notice.

• The Dayboard 9 Visitor Use Area will most likely be accessible throughout the high water time, though several sites are under water.

By David Peck