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Great Plains Region
Billings, Mont.
Media Contact:
Todd Dixon
(406) 247-7303
Mark Andersen
(406) 247-7610

Released On: August 30, 2005

Reclamation Montana Reservoir Update
Drought conditions in July and August 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 September 2-5, Labor Day weekend. "Although we continue to experience near record-low inflows to most of our reservoirs, favorable spring weather conditions have enabled us to meet most of our summer water needs," Jewell said.

In spite of low inflows and low water levels, boat ramps should be usable at most locations during the Labor 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 66 consecutive months and the cumulative inflow since April of this year is the eighth lowest on record since construction of the dam in 1965. Inflows to the reservoir are currently averaging 50 percent of normal for 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 66,367 acre-feet at elevation 5519.98. Due to the 2005 irrigation demands, storage has been drafted to about 37,405 acre-feet at elevation 5508.24, about 16,365 acre-feet or 9.5 feet higher than last year at this time. An agreement between East Bench Irrigation District (EBID) and the Clark Canyon Water Supply Company (CCWSC) assured EBID a water supply of about 30,000 acre-feet of water in 2005 as compared to receiving no water in 2004.

Lake recreation has been severely impacted in recent years due to low water levels in the reservoir. The boat ramp at Beaverhead Camp is currently not open due to low water levels.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir - Similar to Clark Canyon, monthly inflows to Canyon Ferry have been below normal for 66 consecutive months. Cumulative inflow since April has averaged about 72 percent of average since construction of the dam in 1955. Current inflows to Canyon Ferry Reservoir are approximately 55 percent of normal for this time of year.

In response to the persistent drought, releases from Canyon Ferry to the Missouri River are being maintained near the desired minimum fishery flow of 4,100 cubic feet per second (cfs), in an effort to conserve storage in the reservoir in Canyon Ferry. Canyon Ferry Reservoir is currently at elevation 3790.5 with storage content of 1,679,615 acre-feet, which is 97 percent of normal for this time of year and approximately 8.2 feet and 255,200 acre-feet higher than this time last year.

While recreationists are currently able to safely launch boats at most locations around Canyon Ferry during the Labor 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 about 75 percent of average for this time of year. Storage in Gibson Reservoir reached the top of the conservation pool at elevation 4724 on June 15. As the irrigation demands increased later in the summer, storage was evacuated from Gibson Reservoir by August 20. All deliveries to the Sun River Project are discontinued for the remainder of the 2005 irrigation season.

At this time, no boat launching facilities are available at Gibson Reservoir. Projected minimum fall and winter releases to the Sun River are expected to be maintained at about 50 cfs.

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 91 percent of normal and nearly 7,300 acre-feet, or 0.5 feet lower than this time last year. Releases to the Marias River are currently maintained at 400 cfs, about 100 cfs lower than the minimum optimal level recommended by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to support a healthy downstream river fishery. 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 400 cfs later this fall. While recreationists are currently able to safely launch boats at most locations around Lake Elwell during the Labor 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 2561.9 with a storage content of 45,800 acre-feet, which is 121 percent of average for this time of year. This is 7,300 acre-feet or 3.1 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 95 percent of normal.

Due to above average precipitation during May and June, Milk River water users experienced normal water deliveries this year. Initial irrigation allotments of 1.5 acre-feet per acre at the start the irrigation season were later increased to 2.0-2.5 acre-feet per acre. Irrigation deliveries will discontinue about mid-September.

Storage in Nelson Reservoir is currently at elevation 2214.66 with a content of 52,089 acre-feet, which is 96 percent of average for this time of year.

While recreationists are currently able to safely launch boats at all locations around Fresno and Nelson Reservoirs during the Labor 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) - May marked the first month since October, 1999 that inflow to Bighorn Lake was above the annual average. Above normal precipitation received during May and June improved runoff into Bighorn Lake significantly this year. Storage increased from a low of 657,900 acre-feet at elevation 3583.3 on April 8 to a peak content of 1,107,000 acre-feet at elevation 3642.8 on July 1, an increase of 59.5 feet.

Despite spring rains, drought conditions persist. Inflow to Bighorn Lake has dropped from near average in June to 72 percent of average during July through August, resulting in the fourteenth lowest July-August inflow 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 2,500 cfs, a flow considered the minimum desirable flow required to maintain a healthy fishery in the Bighorn River. Even though the total fish population numbers have declined significantly during the persistent drought, the quality of the remaining fishery appears to be excellent despite the low flows and should show signs of improvement over the next few years as river flows are maintained at or above 2,500 cfs.

Storage in Bighorn Lake is currently at 3633.5 with a content of 994,700 acre-feet. This is about 47.7 feet higher or 324,700 acre-feet higher than at this time last year. While recreationists are currently able to safely launch boats at all locations around Bighorn Lake during the Labor 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.

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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.