Visitors to West Newton Lake may be surprised to see picnic tables, ramps and a parking lot submerged underwater – and that is not a bad thing.
The surprising development may be beneficial, said Game and Fish biologist Jason Burkhardt.
For the first time in 35 years, or since 1984, waters of West Newton not only have been swamping the infrastructure, but in June they also were flowing into adjacent East Newton Lake.
Game and Fish is terming that “a rare hydrologic event.”
The lakes may be located right next to one another, but the sources of their waters emanate from different places.
West Newton’s water stems from the Trail Creek drainage and East Newton’s water originates in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and then travels through the Heart Mountain Canal System.
Historically, the water is more nutrient rich in West Newton, but this spillover should enrich East Newton’s waters, helping the stocked rainbow trout there grow larger and improve the quality of fishing.
“It’s changing the water chemistry,” Burckhardt said.
East Newton Lake has had a long history of lower water levels. Burckhardt said he has been involved in pumping in additional water for 17 years.
The lower water levels contributed to seasonal fish die-offs and pumping in 200-acre feet of water has been aimed at preventing that from happening.
Draining off some water at West Newton was focused on removing illegally introduced yellow perch.
Rising water level has been evident at West Newton over the last few years, Burckhardt said. But there are two main contributors to the lake’s growth this year.
“We’ve had a lot of moisture,” Burckhardt said.
Cody experienced record rainfall of 6.22 inches in May. That is recent, but not the sole influence.
“We’ve had higher than average snowpacks the last three winters,” he said.
These types of things can be fluid, to speak, Burckhardt noted.
“It’s been coming up pretty steadily,” he said. “It wasn’t so long ago, eight or nine years, that West Newton was as low as I’ve ever seen it.”
Also, after high West Newton June water levels were detected, a gravel infiltration barrier preventing fish in each lake from swimming between the bodies of water was beefed up with the help of the East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
The barrier is to halt goldfish from moving to East Newton and lake chub from moving to West Newton.
Anglers who have not been to West Newton lately will need to find other parking and they may be surprised at their view of the lake.
“It is quite bigger than it used to be,” Burckhardt said.
They may also ponder the vanishing boat ramp and picnic tables.
“It’s all part of the lake right now,” he said.