Despite winter’s snow pack and the spring’s rains, July has turned dry fast and stream flows are down sharply, making it another tough summer for fish.
“We hoped for better conditions this summer for fish, and the good precipitation we had this winter and spring were positive signs,” said Chris Hunter, FWP Fisheries Division administrator. “But after four consecutive years of drought in some areas of Montana and the low soil moisture content we have, it doesn’t take much to dry things up.”
While there may be no relief except frequent and heavy rain—there are things we can do to help Montana's fisheries survive and to keep water flowing in the streams.
* Water users can conserve water, whether it comes from a tap or a headgate -- use only what you need and think about how to reduce that need in the future. An area of drought resistant native plants in a backyard can save water and create an eye catching landscape feature. Funds for water-saving irrigation projects are available and this might be the best time to research a project.
* Irrigators can give fish a chance by closing down headgates in a 3-day, stepped manner. When headgates are closed slowly, fish have time to sense the reduced flow and migrate “upstream” to the main flow.
* Local Drought Committees and watershed groups are good places to share information and hammer out water conserving strategies and irrigation practices for a particular location.
* Water-right holders who no longer use all or part of their water rights can convert their water to instream use, while protecting their water right and benefiting the fishery. Senior water right holders on streams with priority fisheries may be able to diversify their income by leasing a portion of their water right to FWP.For more information on how conditions are affecting the state’s fisheries and links to some of the state’s water resources, visit the FWP web page at fwp.state.mt.us and click on “Drought & Fire '03.”