June 17, 2008

Clark Canyon Reservoir Holding Steady

By Nick Gevock, The Montana Standard, Butte

Jun. 17--Clark Canyon reservoir remains about a quarter short of its long term average water supply despite the recent several weeks of cool, wet weather.

The reservoir as of last week was holding about 121,000 acre feet of water, roughly three quarters its average of 167,000 acre feet for this time of year, said Dennis Miotke, manager of the East Bench irrigation district. It's only 9,000 acre feet more than last year but a big improvement over the past few years.

"It's in pretty good shape for this time of the year," he said. "It could be better but we've had it a lot worse." The good news is the reservoir's water level is roughly holding steady as irrigators pull water from it to start putting on crops. Miotke said the dam is releasing 350 cubic feet per second, which is less water than it normally would be letting go for this time of year.

With a strong snowpack in the mountains and healthy rains in recent weeks, the release of water hasn't been drawing the reservoir down, Miotke said. In recent years the reservoir has been dropped in mid June on as irrigators start using water to deal with hot, dry conditions.

"The inflows are just about matching the releases right now," he said. "We started to draw it down a little bit and it started raining." The Beaverhead River has also been helped with a strong inflow from Grasshopper Creek, Miotke said.

The demand for water should go up in coming days as temperatures warm up and the growing season gets further along.

"There are some people just starting to irrigate grain right now," Miotke said.

Among those farmers and ranchers is Carol Giem, who raises cattle, hay and grain with her husband Loren near Twin Bridges. She said with the cool weather they've only irrigated some of their fields thus far this year.

Even those haven't received as much irrigation water as in past years. She said most of them would have been irrigated twice, but this year the fields that have received water have only been passed over once with sprinklers.

"When the wind blows and it's cold, it just doesn't do that much good," Giem said. "We're only about half over some of our fields and we've got it shut off right now." She added that she expects to start using more irrigation water in coming days. Haying will be pushed back later this year as a result of the cool weather and the irrigation needed to produce hay will also come later in the summer.

While the reservoir has improved, Miotke said it won't fully recover from the past seven drought years for some time.

"It's been dry for so long, it's going to take four or five years like this to bring it back," he said. "We've got a long ways to go." Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at [email protected]


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