WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), released the following statement on the long-awaited removal of a sandbar island in the Big Horn River. During the spring, the sand bar led to serious floods caused by ice jams. These floods caused significant damage in the city of Worland, WY.

Barrasso held an EPW hearing on the destructive floods in March. Following the hearing, the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) inspected the site and local crews were able to move forward with the project.

“The community in Worland is safer today,” said Barrasso. “Local crews were given the green light to remove an island in the Big Horn River that contributed to destructive floods. In the spring, car-sized blocks of ice would sit for weeks on playgrounds and people’s front lawns. The ice damaged everything from water treatment plants, to people’s homes, and small businesses.

Big Horn River

Local crews remove the island in the middle of the Big Horn River. During the spring, the sand bar contributed to serious floods due to ice jams.

“I’m thankful to Washakie County Commissioner Terry Wolf, who testified in Washington at a hearing I held on this important topic. His testimony made it clear to everyone how awful the flooding in Worland was and why this job needed to get done. I’m glad the hearing brought the Army Corps and local leaders together to get this project moving.” 

“Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers met with local officials and the Washakie County Commissioners in Worland in early April to discuss problems the sand berm had created and options for removing it,” said Washakie County Commissioner Terry Wolf. “The Army Corps recommended that as long as the bank was not altered, the county could dig out the sediment and transfer it to trucks, for further county use.

“A local contractor started the excavation with city and county crews hauling the sediment on September 20. The work was completed ahead of schedule on October 4, just in time for water from irrigation canals to be turned back into the river and the Bureau of Reclamation to increase flows from Boysen Reservoir again. Over 16,000 cubic yards of sediment were removed. It was a collaborate effort by all parties involved in the process from the planning to the completion of the project. A big thanks go out to the contractor McClellan & Macqueen Inc. of Worland and city & county crews for the swift removal of the sand berm.”

Big Horn River 2

The Big Horn River after the work was completed.

“Year after year, residents of Worland and Washakie County watched ice stack up on a sediment island that forced water from the Big Horn River into the community,” said Wyoming County Commissioners Association Executive Director Pete Obermueller. “It seemed like such an easy fix, just remove the island, but getting permission from the federal government to do such a simple task proved very difficult. So year after year, the sediment island continued to grow, exacerbating the problem.

“In the end, it took the perseverance of local officials like Commissioner Wolf, combined with the effective leadership of Senator Barrasso to finally accomplish removal of the island. This is Wyoming at its finest – the tireless work of local governments combined with strong partners in Congress to realize success.”

Background Information:

Terry Wolf

Commissioner Wolf testifies before the EPW Committee on the flood in Worland, Wyo., as Lieutenant General Todd Semonite observes a graphic that displays the severity of the flooding.

On March 1, 2017, Barrasso held a hearing of the EPW Committee on “Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events.” The hearing featured testimony from Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; as well as the Honorable Terry Wolf, chairman of the Washakie County Commissioners.

At the hearing, Barrasso said “Often times in rural states, federal ‘one-size-fits-all’ rules can have absurd results on the ground. If removing a tree or a pile of dirt, which might only take days to accomplish, can make a difference in preventing a catastrophic flood, a town shouldn’t have to go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to remove those features, while the town floods yearly.”

In his written testimony, Commissioner Wolf highlighted a common flooding issue in northwest Wyoming that seriously affects many rural communities in the area. In the winter, ice blocks develop around an island in the Big Horn River, obstructing the natural river flow and causing major floods affecting homes and businesses in surrounding communities. Wolf testified on the damage from the latest flood. “We are still evaluating the total costs to our communities in damage and clean-up costs, but estimates of state and local costs will likely exceed $150,000,” said Wolf.

“While this flood is heartbreaking by itself, what is important for the committee to know is that what happened in Worland a couple weeks ago is almost identical to the flooding in 2014.”

Wolf detailed how it was determined that removing the island would prevent the ice buildup and subsequent floods.

Watch Wolf’s testimony here.

Washakie County and the city of Worland continue to pursue permanent solutions to flooding in the area.