'Otherworldly': Heavy rainfall brings piles of driftwood to Yellowtail Dam

Posted at 5:10 PM, Jul 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-31 11:03:58-04

Piles of debris and driftwood have washed ashore at Yellowtail Dam, making it challenging for boaters to get in and out of the water safely.

The debris is a lasting impact of heavy rainfall in June, which brought the water level at the dam up while sweeping pieces of wood into the water.

For longtime boater Angela Fuller, she said she's never seen anything like it.

"It was unreal. Honestly, it was crazy," Fuller said. "I mean, there's always wood when we go to Yellowtail, but I've never seen it blocking one side of the boat dock, let alone the entire boat loading dock. It felt otherworldly."

Ok-A-Beh Marian Dock

Fuller was boating at the dam with her family last weekend. She said when they first arrived, one side of the boat dock was cleared of wood so that boats could be dropped into the water safely.

But at the end of their day, when they arrived at the dock to pull their boat out of the water, the entire loading dock was covered in driftwood.

"That was wild," Fuller said. "There was literal tree logs that were up under our boat, and so my husband had to hop in the water and was pulling out trees from underneath our boat so that we could safely get our boat on the trailer."

Fuller said that while her family did their best to be cautious, she knows the massive amount of debris could cause serious harm to boats and their passengers.

"We're not going to let it deter us because we take boat safety very seriously," Fuller said. "My dad actually works on boats and he said there's been a lot of people coming in with boat problems this year."

Angela Fuller

Yellowtail Dam Division Manager Christopher Curtis said that the massive amounts of rainfall in June gave them no choice but to hold the water, which brought the level up higher than in year's past.

"So, what that really comes down to is the increased rain that we had this June," Curtis said. "This year was very unique."

Curtis said their primary purpose is to prevent flooding downstream and the added water gave them no choice.

"We had a lot of water coming in and we had to hold that because it would do massive damage downstream," Curtis said.

Superintendent of Big Horn Canyon Recreation Area James Hill said part of the delay is due to an equipment shortage.

"We had some issues with some equipment shortages, but essentially we've been doing the same thing we've always done," Hill said. "Given those confined spaces, we really can't get more equipment there, so it's really just a patient, day by day thing."

Piles of clean up

Hill said that this year has been different and that usually the driftwood has already been cleared out by this point in the summer. Still, he said progress is being made and he's hopeful the water will clear up for visitors by the end of the season.

"By this time in the summer, the driftwood is kind of over," Hill said. "We are making progress. As we move here into August, and we don't see a lot of torrential downpours, I think we're going to be okay."

The clean up process is one that Fuller knows is strenuous, but she's appreciative and excited for when the water is clear once again.

"Those guys are out there all day and it's almost an impossible chore for them right now," Fuller said. "They just need that water to go down and it'll be easier for them, but we are really appreciative. We're excited to get out there again and see the progress they've made."