More stringent water quality regulations in California are part of the reason boaters may soon be forced to pull their vessels from the Colter Bay Marina.
The connection sounds strange, but it’s real.
In Idaho, farmers are shifting from hard grains such as wheat to more water-dependent dairy feed crops — alfalfa, hay and corn — and that is causing increased demand for releases from Jackson Lake.
The reason for the shift to dairy crops is Idaho’s growing dairy industry, which some trace to tough rules that have curbed the dairy business 500 miles away in the Golden State, said Mike Beus, water operations manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Snake River field office.
Tougher water standards in California equal a dairy industry move to Idaho, and that means a need for more of Jackson Lake’s water, he said.
“There’s just not as many small grains and beans in Idaho as we’re used to,” Beus said. “The dairy industry is moving from California to southern Idaho.”
The increased demand is pulling Jackson Lake down faster than was usual in recent years. The lake was sitting at just 62 percent of its 847,000-acre-foot capacity as of Wednesday morning.
It’s headed much lower — probably to 150,000 acre-feet, just 18 percent of capacity — by Sept. 30, Beus said.
“That’s really low,” he said.
There was just 3 feet of water left at Colter Bay Marina on Monday, and the level has been dropping steadily. By the end of the week it’s likely that some boats will no longer be able to dock there, said Tracy Stephens, a fisheries biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“For larger watercraft to use it, they need at least 2 feet,” Stephens said.
Other services at Colter Bay, such as dining, retail and the marina store, will remain open through the end of the season, said Levi Thorn, communications director at Grand Teton Lodge Company.
Lake cruises out of Colter Bay will be finished Aug. 8, and guided fishing trips will cease Aug. 15, Thorn said. Canoeing and kayaking out of the marina figure to be finished Aug. 21, he said.
The Leeks and Signal Bay marinas are expected to remain usable for the season.
Fishing on Jackson Hole’s largest body of water is also expected to take a hit from the lower water levels, Stephens said.
“I think it is probably going to be more challenging fishing,” she said. “The fish might be in different areas than where people found them in recent years.”
The low water levels in Jackson Lake, which is being drained at a rate of 4,500 cubic feet a second, are not the usual, Beus said, but not rare either.
The last time water dipped below 18 percent of capacity was 2005, he said. Before that, the lake dipped that low in 2003, 2002, 2001, 1993 and 1988.