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Great Plains Region
Billings, Mont.
Media Contact:
Todd Dixon
(406) 247-7303
Mark Andersen
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Released On: May 20, 2005

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

The federal water resource management agency released updated water supply information to help recreationists prepare for the upcoming May 28-30 Memorial Day weekend. "Although we continue to experience record-low inflows to most of our reservoirs, favorable spring weather conditions have enabled us to meet most of our water needs," Jewell said.

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

Current conditions at Bureau of Reclamation facilities:

Clark Canyon Reservoir - The Beaverhead watershed in southwestern Montana continues to be one of the most severely drought-impacted areas in the State. Monthly inflows to Clark Canyon have been below normal for 62 consecutive months and the cumulative inflow since April of this year is the second lowest on record since construction of the dam in 1965. Inflows to the reservoir are currently averaging 40 percent of what they would normally be at this time of year.

Clark Canyon Reservoir has not filled to the top of the conservation pool since 1998 and storage within the reservoir has steadily declined since then. On May 15, storage in Clark Canyon reached a content of 65,042 acre-feet this year at elevation 5519.53, about 13,300 acre-feet or 5.0 feet higher than last year at this time. An agreement between East Bench Irrigation District (EBID) and the Clark Canyon Water Supply Company (CCWSC) will assure EBID a limited amount of water in 2005 and may be increased as the irrigation season progresses and hydrologic conditions improve.

Lake recreation has been severely impacted in recent years due to the extremely low water levels in the reservoir. However, the boat ramp at Beaverhead Camp is currently open with a water level seven feet above the end of the ramp. Concrete plank extensions are also in place.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir - Similar to Clark Canyon, monthly inflows to Canyon Ferry have been below normal for 62 consecutive months. Cumulative inflow since April is the third lowest on record since construction of the dam in 1955. Current inflows to Canyon Ferry Reservoir are approximately 50 percent of normal for this time of year.

In response to near record low inflows, and to conserve storage in the reservoir, releases from Canyon Ferry to the Missouri River are being maintained between 2,800-3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). With the mountain snowmelt underway and recent spring storms frequenting the watershed, inflows to Canyon Ferry are gradually increasing.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir is currently at elevation 3781.9 with storage content of 1,413,200 acre-feet, which is 92 percent of normal for this time of year and approximately two feet higher than this time last year.

While recreationists should be able to safely launch boats at most locations around Canyon Ferry during the Memorial Day weekend, boaters are encouraged to log onto Reclamation's website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/boat/ for up-to-date information on specific boat ramp conditions.

Gibson Reservoir - Inflow to Gibson Reservoir is currently above normal for this time of year. The mountain snowmelt has begun and spring storms have frequented the area, resulting in increased inflows. During April, storage in Gibson Reservoir has risen to 94,600 acre-feet, which is three-quarter foot below full pool, or about the same level as a year ago at this time. To control the runoff into Gibson Reservoir, releases to the Sun River have been increased to 2,300 cfs. Releases may increase moderately depending on snowmelt runoff. Even with the Sun River watershed reservoirs at full capacity, water users may experience critical water shortages this year if climatic and hydrologic conditions do not improve.

Lake Elwell (Tiber Reservoir) - Inflow to Lake Elwell is currently about 46 percent of average for this time of year. Storage in Lake Elwell is 92 percent of normal and nearly 50,900 acre-feet, or 3.5 feet lower than this time last year. Releases to the Marias River are currently maintained at 500 cfs, the optimal level recommended by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to support a healthy downstream river fishery. The Marias River Basin downstream of Tiber Dam is the only area in the State where minimum fishery flows are being maintained. No significant impacts to lake recreation activities or to downstream river fisheries are anticipated this year. If climatic and hydrologic conditions do not improve, it may be necessary to reduce releases to less than 500 cfs later this fall. While recreationists should be able to safely launch boats at most locations around Lake Elwell during the Memorial Day weekend, boaters are encouraged to log onto Reclamation's website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/boat/ for up-to-date information on specific boat ramp conditions.

Milk River Project (Fresno & Nelson) - Fresno Reservoir is currently at elevation 2566.5 with a storage content of 58,900 acre-feet, which is 87 percent of normal for this time of year. This is 17,700 acre-feet or 6.6 feet higher than at this time last year. Due mainly to diversions from the St. Mary River Basin, runoff into Fresno Reservoir since April has been approximately 70 percent of normal.

Unless climatic conditions change considerably, Milk River water users can expect minor water shortages this year. Based on the latest water supply forecast, water users in the Milk River Basin will have irrigation allotments of about 1.5 acre-feet per acre to start the irrigation season. Storage in Fresno and Nelson Reservoirs is expected to drop to no lower than 20,000 acre-feet in each reservoir in order to protect the winter storage supply in the Milk River Basin. Moderate impacts to lake-based recreation are anticipated at both reservoirs.

While recreationists should be able to safely launch boats at most locations around Fresno and Nelson Reservoirs during the Memorial Day weekend, boaters are encouraged to log onto Reclamation's website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/boat/ for up-to-date information on specific boat ramp conditions.

Bighorn Lake (Yellowtail Dam) - Mountain snowmelt and recent spring storms have significantly increased inflows to Bighorn Lake. For the past 67 consecutive months inflows to Bighorn Lake have been below normal. Even though cumulative inflow to Bighorn Lake since April has improved to 80 percent of normal, it continues to remain at the twelfth lowest level on record since dam construction in 1967.

In close coordination with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, releases from Bighorn Lake to the Bighorn River are being maintained at 1,500 cfs, a flow considered the desired minimum flow required to maintain a healthy fishery in the Bighorn River. According to MFWP reports, fishery population estimates have declined considerably during the prolonged and persistent drought. While overall population numbers have declined significantly, the quality of the remaining fishery appears to be excellent despite the low flows.

Because of recent rains and the snowmelt runoff, storage in Bighorn Lake has increased dramatically. Storage increased from a low of 657,900 acre-feet at elevation 3583.29 to a current level of 755,400 acre-feet. This is about 90 percent of normal for this time of year. Bighorn Lake is currently about 19.2 feet higher or 100,400 acre-feet higher than at this time last year.

The minimum lake level to safely launch boats at Bighorn Lake is elevation 3580. Based on recent outlooks, the level of Bighorn Lake should be adequate to safely launch boats during the spring and summer of 2005. Boaters are encouraged to log onto Reclamation's website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/boat/ to check for up-to-date information prior to planning their weekend.

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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.