CASPER, Wyo. — Summer flows along the North Platte River could meet or even exceed those of last year, when high water caused minor flooding and forced officials to establish sandbag sites in Natrona County, authorities said Wednesday.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been clearing storage space in central Wyoming's reservoirs since February. But above-average snowpack and a still-swollen reservoir system have prompted officials to prepare for another wet summer.
"We don't know if there is going to be enough room to store all the water," county Emergency Management Coordinator Stewart Anderson said.
Authorities are monitoring the river on a daily basis, Anderson said. The Natrona County Emergency Management Agency has also begun meeting with business owners to discuss how to prepare for high water.
During last summer's peak river flows, authorities established several sandbag sites in Natrona County. Anderson anticipates similar measures this year.
The Emergency Management Agency also released a statement Wednesday reminding home and business owners that "now is the time" to purchase flood insurance ahead of the high water.
After three wet years, the reservoir system that runs from Seminoe to Guernsey is storing 36 percent more water than normal. To increase storage space, the bureau began releasing water downstream early this year.
Water is now being released out of Gray Reef Reservoir, the closest upstream reservoir to Casper, at a rate of nearly 4,500 cubic feet per second, according to a statement released Wednesday by the bureau. In comparison, June river flows through Casper -- when the snowpack is melting -- typically run at only 2,000 to 2,600 cfs.
Already, the river has spilled its banks at spots in Natrona County. Water covered a few sections of the Platte River Parkway in Casper on Wednesday and has formed ponds along Reshaw Park in Evansville.
"It's getting closer and closer all the time," said Joe Knop, who handles park maintenance for the city.
Last year, peak river flows through Casper topped at about 7,200 cubic feet per second. There is a potential for even higher flows this year, depending on weather conditions and the snowpack that feeds the North Platte, according to the bureau's statement.
John Lawson, the bureau's Wyoming area manager, did not return messages left Wednesday at his office.
In March, the snowpack for the upper North Platte stood at 136 percent of normal. The lower basin was hovering at about 120 percent of average.
Federal official are now forecasting 1.45 million acre feet of runoff will rush into Seminoe Reservoir from April through the end of July. That would be roughly 200,000 more acre-feet than last year.
An acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land with a foot of water.
The bureau has scheduled a public meeting for Wednesday on the water situation. It begins at 4 p.m. at the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Casper.