The Beaverhead County Drought Task Force held it’s monthly meeting on Monday, May 11th. David Bernhardt of the National Weather Service in Great Falls gave a presentation of climate and moisture conditions in Beaverhead County (View here). There were a few notable changes since the April meeting. The U.S. Drought Monitor elevated the status of southern Beaverhead County from “D0 Abnormally Dry” to “D1 Moderate Drought”. The NRCS Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) also elevated the status of the Beaverhead Watershed and the entire Upper Missouri River Watershed from “Moderately Dry” to the highest classification of “Extremely Dry”. The SWSI accounts for snowpack, mountain precipitation, streamflow, reservoir contents, and soil moisture conditions. Year-to-date storage content for Clark Canyon Reservoir and Lima Reservoir are 90% of average and 93% of average, respectively. These numbers are not alarming in and of themselves. However, the abnormally warm and dry late-winter/early-spring conditions mean that mountain snowpack in Beaverhead County was below average and melted off earlier than normal, especially in the Centennial Valley. This means that reservoir inflows are far below normal for this time of year (23% of average for Clark Canyon Reservoir), and the percent-of-average year-to-date storage content could plummet rapidly as the summer progresses.
May and June are the months that contribute the most moisture to Beaverhead County, and both short and long term NOAA forecasts indicate that we can expect some much needed precipitation in the coming days and weeks. However, those same forecasts are calling for warmer than normal temperatures which could siphon more moisture from growing crops that are already under reduced irrigation. Elimination of drought conditions will likely require several consecutive weeks of above average precipitation.
BWC encourages all members of the community to be mindful of the current status of drought and the associated impacts. Irrigators have demonstrated this mindfulness by taking reduced allotments this irrigation season. Folks in town can conserve water by watering their lawns in the early morning or evening, reducing or eliminating lawn watering on rainy or windy days, and washing their vehicles less frequently. As we get into July and August, folks should also be cautious of wildfire risk, and be extra vigilant when it comes to preventing sparks from campfires, stoves, fireworks, and cigarettes from igniting dry vegetation.
The next meeting of the Beaverhead County Drought Task Force will be Monday, June 8th at 11AM, in the County Commissioners meeting room at the Beaverhead County Court House. The meeting is open to the public.