Flows at 30-Year Low on the Bitterroot River

Aug 18, 2013

EcoFlight joined up with Clark Fork Coalition and a press team for a flight mission over the Bitterroot River and Lolo creek. The Bitterroot flows into the Clark Fork near Missoula, Montana and is a popular fishing destination for rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout.

The Bitterroot River is reporting a 30-year low for water levels, leaving a shortage of water for irrigators. The river is used by farmers and ranchers to irrigate their crops south of Missoula. Many farmers switched to cereal crops this year in anticipation of a dry season, but others will need more water to sustain their crops through the rest of the year. With the river flowing at nearly half of normal, and expected to drop even lower, there may not be enough water to go around.

The low water levels have prompted state agencies to put fishing restrictions on sections of the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork River. Our conservation partners at Clark Fork Coalition are working with irrigators to help keep more water in the river. Farmers can increase the instream flows in the dry months of late summer by upgrading their irrigation infrastructure and leasing their water rights back to the stream for the sake of stream health. Our flight helped us assess the water levels on 60 miles of the Bitterroot, and to gain a better understanding of where irrigated agriculture is occurring and how the network of diversions and canals works.