Winter Update: snowpack, cold, water outlook

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February came with a serious winter blast. Above normal temperatures and below normal snowpack have been replaced with the exact opposite. We definitely feel for our friends trying to calve in this weather, but are relieved that winter finally came to build up our summer water supply.

The latest NRCS water supply outlook shows that February brought above normal precipitation and snow-water equivalent, and below normal temperatures. The Beaverhead snowpack is at 114% of normal, and both Lima Reservoir and Clark Canyon Reservoir are well above normal.

We can expect the higher releases from Clark Canyon Reservoir to continue, as the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and water users reach a compromise between storing adequate water for irrigation, and releasing enough water to leave empty space in the reservoir in case of high runoff, especially those rain-on-snow events that can cause a huge amount of water to come out of the mountains. People are already missing out on early season fishing opportunities, and the expected high spring flows will make fishing more challenging again this season. The fish, however, should be happy and fat.

Unlike the Big Hole, we have a reservoir which allows for controlled, predictable and sustained flows in the Beaverhead River. The Army Corps, Bureau of Reclamation, water users and our local FWP Fish Biologist all work together to find a compromised release/storage plan for the reservoir and river flow. It is a compromise, and no one use will get everything it wants, but when we have this much water, everyone does pretty well. We’re excited to see what this spring and summer bring, and hope to see some of you out there.

Beaverhead Watershed Committee is continuing to work on water quality and quantity projects with local landowners and agencies. There’s a lot of momentum behind wet meadow restoration and tree removal projects. Historic photos from the county show that fir and juniper trees have taken over what used to be sage and grassland, as well as river banks, using a lot of available water. We’re working with our partners to remove these trees and restore sage, grassland and wet meadows. If anyone has questions about any of this, feel free to reach out to us.