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Great Plains Region
Billings, Mont.
Media Contact:
Todd Dixon
(406) 247-7303

Released On: June 25, 2004

Bureau of Reclamation Reservoir Information
Drought conditions will continue to affect irrigation, power, and recreational water users throughout eastern Montana, according to Jamie Macartney, Acting Area Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation's Montana Area Office.

The federal water resource management agency released updated water supply information in preparation for the upcoming 4th of July weekend. "Our forecast prior to the Memorial Day weekend was anything but rosy, and unfortunately it hasn't gotten much better since then," Macartney said. "Traditionally, the 4th of July weekend has been the big weekend for water-based recreation at many of our facilities. We continue to experience record low inflows at many locations, and we will be experiencing impacts associated with new record-low reservoir levels later this summer."

In spite of low inflows and low water levels, boat ramps should be usable at most locations during the 4th of July weekend, Macartney said. "We do strongly urge recreationists to check for the most up-to-date information on boat ramp status at Reclamation's website http://www.usbr.gov/gp/", he added.

Current conditions at Bureau of Reclamation facilities:

Clark Canyon Reservoir - The Beaverhead watershed in southwestern Montana continues to be the most critically impacted drought area in Montana. Clark Canyon Reservoir has not filled to the top of the conservation pool (178,000 acre-feet) since 1998.

Inflows to Clark Canyon continue to set new record lows and are currently at 75 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is about 12 percent of normal for this time of year.

Reservoir storage has peaked for the year at 55,371 acre-feet. This is the lowest peak storage at Clark Canyon Reservoir since construction of the dam in 1965. As a result, no water will be delivered to the East Bench Irrigation District in 2004.

Lake recreation will be severely impacted as there will be no concessionaire at Clark Canyon Reservoir and only one boat ramp is usable at this time.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir - Inflows to Canyon Ferry are the seventh lowest on record since construction of the dam in 1955. The general lack of spring precipitation has created unusually early irrigation demands in the upper basin, which has severely depleted inflows to Canyon Ferry. Reservoir inflows are currently about 4,000 cfs, which is about 43 percent of normal for this time of year.

Canyon Ferry continues to slowly gain storage and the current water surface elevation is 3784 feet for a storage content of 1,484,800 acre-feet, which is about 82 percent of normal for this time of year. Last year at this time the water surface elevation was at 3797 feet for a storage content of 1,908,255 acre-feet. Based on current inflow projections, Canyon Ferry is expected to peak this year at somewhere around elevation 3785 feet.

Recreationists should be able to safely launch boats in Canyon Ferry during the 4th of July weekend. However, inflows are decreasing and unless precipitation conditions improve dramatically, significant impacts to boating are likely to occur later this summer.

Gibson Reservoir - Gibson Reservoir has filled to the top of the conservation pool and due to the heavy irrigation demand, storage is beginning to decline slowly. Releases from Gibson to the Sun River are currently being maintained at 200 cfs to satisfy downstream demands. Although the reservoir is currently full, should precipitation continue to remain below normal, water users can anticipate water shortages by mid-August, much like last year.

Lake Elwell (Tiber Reservoir) - Storage in Lake Elwell is currently at elevation 2985 feet with a storage content of 835,449 acre-feet, which is about 90 percent of normal for this time of year, but about 6 feet lower in elevation and 104,362 acre-feet lower in storage than at this same time last year. Based on current inflow projections, the reservoir is expected to peak this year at somewhere around elevation 2986 feet.

Releases from Tiber are being maintained at 500 cfs to support a healthy river fishery downstream from the dam. Based on recent water supply projections, significant impacts to reservoir-based recreation activities and downstream river fisheries are not anticipated this season.

Milk River Project (Fresno & Nelson Reservoirs) - Recent rains across northern Montana have decreased irrigation demands and subsequent releases from Fresno and Nelson Reservoirs. Storage in Fresno Reservoir is currently at elevation 2567 feet for a storage content of 60,803 acre-feet, which is about 97 percent of normal for this time of year. Inflows to Fresno are about 90 percent of normal, largely attributed to the diversions from the St. Mary River.

Based on recent water supply projections, water users in the Milk River Basin have increased their previous irrigation allotments of 1.1 acre-feet per acre to 1.25 acre-feet per acre. This amount is considerably less than their normal allotments of 2.0 to 2.5 acre-feet per acre. Irrigation deliveries are expected to continue through mid-September.

To protect the minimum winter storage supply in the Milk River Basin, storage in Fresno and Nelson Reservoirs is anticipated to drop to no lower than 20,000 acre-feet in each reservoir. At this time, moderate impacts to recreation due to low water levels can be anticipated at both locations later this summer.

Bighorn Lake (Yellowtail Dam) - Inflows to Bighorn Lake are currently the lowest on record since construction of the dam in 1967 and only 29 percent of average for this time of year. Unusually early heavy irrigation demands in the upper basin have severely reduced inflows into Bighorn Lake, although recent precipitation has improved the situation slightly.

Water levels in Bighorn Lake have been slowly, but steadily increasing. The lake is currently at elevation 3589 feet for a storage content of 675,612 acre-feet. This is about 68 percent of normal and 23 feet lower in elevation and 129,003 acre-feet lower in storage than at this same time last year. Based upon current inflow projections, Bighorn Lake is expected to peak this year at somewhere around elevation 3590 feet.

Through ongoing consultation and coordination with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP), the current plan is to maintain releases of 1,300 cfs to the Bighorn River. This flow rate is about 1,200 cfs less than the desired flow required to sustain a healthy river fishery in the Bighorn River. MFWP estimates that the river fishery population has declined from an average of about 5,000-7000 fish per mile to less than 500-700 fish per mile.

Recreationists should be able to safely launch boats in Bighorn Lake during the 4th of July weekend, although access to the lake is expected to be impacted later in the summer.

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at www.usbr.gov.