- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

CODY, Wyo. (AP) - The Willwood Dam, long considered overdue for repair work on the Shoshone River, may finally get fixed after state officials came up with a novel suggestion: using compressed air to blast away decades of silt.

If it works, the state could save $1 million fixing the dam, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1924.

The north, south and middle sluice gates are blocked by decades of silt, Willwood Irrigation District manager Tom Walker said. The gates allow sediment to pass downstream.

For at least 20 years, only one of the three gates was operational. The stems that helped open and close the north and middle gates were bent, and there was a fear the south gate might have the same problem.

Willwood Dam, northeast of Cody, acts as a conduit for diverting water to 12,500 acres owned by about 180 farmers who primarily grow beets, beans, alfalfa and hay.

Without the ability to control water flow with dams, the Shoshone “would just be a wild river,” Walker said. “You’d have areas susceptible to flooding. You wouldn’t have these towns, and you wouldn’t have enough water to farm.”

Major towns affected include Cody and Powell.

Walker said he is worried the other gate could fail, the Cody Enterprise reported (https://tinyurl.com/p3pa3hr ).

The Wyoming Water Development Commission approved a grant of $1.6 million.

The state Department of Transportation was researching pending bridge work in the area and provided sonar imagery. The pictures showed that by inserting a pipe and blasting compressed air into the silt it could be moved without dredging. With a bit of trepidation, the middle gate was opened for the first time since the 1990s, more easily than predicted, and within an hour enough silt was pushed aside to allow usage of the gate.

The Game and Fish Department has worked to preserve the Shoshone as a trout fishery with high water quality.

In February and March, the bent stems were replaced. This fall, officials plan to upgrade the big gear mechanisms that raise and lower the gates.

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Information from: The Cody Enterprise, https://www.codyenterprise.com

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