As of May 26, 2020, the Box Butte Reservoir (dam) was sitting at 96 percent full with a pool elevation of over 4006 feet. This is a breathtaking sight to see as reservoir water will begin spilling into the emergency spillway at 4007 feet.
Most of us that were raised around here have never seen the lake so high.
“The lake is the fullest that it has been since 1952,” said Nebraska Game and Parks employee/Box Butte Dam Superintendent II Robert Hughes.
“Its crazy full, fished that lake for 40 years and I've never seen that much water. Same with the lakes in the Sandhills,” said lifelong panhandle resident Herby Bakkehaug.
The high water levels have led to many of the numbered camp sites to be underwater as are a number of access roads.
Bakkehaug camped at the Box Butte Dam this past weekend with a couple of his close friends.
“The handful of us that were there had a blast,” said Chuck Giger. “And Game and Parks employees that were working were extremely friendly.”
Operation Circle the Wagons was scheduled to take place this weekend at the Dam in protest of strict rules that were put into place by the Nebraska Game and Parks in hopes of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Restrictions that prevented tent camping, any form or swimming or wading in the water, and any first-come first-serve camping; among a number of other rules.
Those restrictions were lifted by the Game and Parks Commission on Friday, May 22 for Box Butte and 35 other state recreation areas and wildlife management areas.
These areas were opened up for all camping units, including tents.
“Camping is first-come, first-serve as it has always been. Tents are allowed and people are allowed in the water,” said Hughes.
“It was really slow this weekend,” he noted. “It was the slowest Memorial Day Weekend that I had ever seen. There were only six campers up here. The way everybody talked I had expected it to be overflowing with people but then they lifted some of the restrictions and the weather wasn’t really good so maybe that had something to do with it.”
There were a lot of new features added to the Dam last year.
The new boat dock and ramp, one of the restroom were renovated and a new storage shed.
“People sure are loving the new two lane ramp,” Hughes said. “There are no big projects in the works this year though.”
“The water is nice and clear and just beautiful. Everything is just excellent up here,” he said.
As for Covid-19 precautions he stated that they are sanitizing the restrooms a couple of times a day.
“Fishing has been a little slow this season so far with the high water,” Hughes said. “They are in the process of stocking some more fish. They have stocked rainbow trout and will continue to stock that throughout the summer. They are going to stock walleye and I believe crappie.”
The public and Dam goers will no doubt be keeping a close eye on the water level as it inches closer and closer to spilling over the spillway.
An astonishing feat when you realize that in August of 2018 the Dam was at 18 percent full. It was lowered to more than 10 feet and water levels were maintained below 3,985 acre-feet of elevation to make repairs to a toe drain on the dam. Currently the water levels are sitting at 27,989 acre-feet of elevation.
Hughes said, “I’m hoping to see it go over, it would pretty cool and historic to see.”