Hyrum Dam tender is busy balancing water needs

The water gates at Hyrum Dam is part of a study being done by the Bureau of Reclamation.

With all the snow and rain in Cache Valley this year, it seems like Cache Valley has an abundance of water.

Kirt Lindley, the dam tender, is busy regulating the water in Hyrum Dam this time of year.

Brian McInerney, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service, said the Bear River Range and the Logan drainage doesn’t have the same amount of snow pack as the southern part of the state.

“If you look at the state form north to south, the northern end has the least amount of snowpack,” he said. “The atmospheric rivers favored the southern area, so the south snow back was above average.”

The weather scientist said there are two options for the runoff.

“We’re going to have a lot of water in the middle of the valley for quite a while,” he said. “We can either control floods on the river, or we can have a river.”

Regulating water in the rolled earth and rock-filled dam in Hyrum can be a tricky task. Dam tenders must decide how much water to hold back and what water to send down to the shareholders.

Kirt Lindley is the dam tender at the Hyrum Dam. He has been watching and controlling the water that fills the Hyrum Reservoir and the Little Bear since 1998. Lindley has regulated water in both wet and dry years and tries to keep the water in the dam where it will benefit both the water users downstream and the aquaculture.

Kirt Lindley watches the pumps, installed in 1935, which control the water gates at Hyrum Dam.

He makes sure canal companies have their share of water for the hot summer months and thirsty crops. Lindley knows the canals and where the water needs to go.

“This year Porcupine is full and there is water coming off the north side of Powder Mountain, and we have to figure that into to our water storage,” he said.

Lindley operates the electric motors used to raise and lower the gates that control the flow of water. The gates are the same ones installed in 1935 when the dam was finished.

The dairy farmer said he has also been a water master since 1992.

“In 2013, we had a lot of water; we had to keep the reservoir low to accommodate the snowpack,” he said. “We had to let a lot of water out and it flooded some areas downstream.”

During the peak of runoff, he watches the water levels pretty close.

He had the dam down four feet from capacity and was running out about 400 second acre feet of water out until just recently. A second acre is how far one cubic acre of water flows for one second.

Water from Hyrum dam is used for farmers and homeowners from Hyrum to Petersboro.

“I’m trying of fill the dam now, so I have slowed the output to 200 acre feet,” he said. “It will be above what we usually see. We try to keep the river flow to about 700 to 800 second feet.”

When the dam is full it holds 18,685 acre feet of water.

Hyrum is one of two dams in the valley regulated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the other is the Newton Dam. Porcupine Dam is privately owned and Cutler Dam is owned and controlled by Pacific Corp.

Construction of the dam finished in 1935 and WWII officially began in 1939.

Lindley, originally from Wellsville, remembers hearing his mother talk about the dam during WWII. His grandfather would walk the canal from his home for three miles, in the dark, to check on the dam.

“Every night he would leave at 10 p.m. and stay until 6 a.m. in the morning.”

There was a fear the dam could be a target of an enemy attack.

Two men try their luck at fishing on Hyrum Reservoir near the dam.

The wood shack, still in place overlooking both sides of the dam, with square turrets and round holes was a guardhouse.

Lindley said someone from the Bureau of Reclamation told him there was a 40 caliber machine gun pointed at the dam in case of enemy intruders.

Over the years, the reservoir has provided water for the farmers and controlled floods, but remains a popular recreation location for thousands of people.

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