(Provided by Matt Hardy via Pexels.com for the Daily Montanan)
Persistent drought conditions, low soil moisture and low snowpack are contributing to a forecast of continued low water levels at Hebgen Reservoir this season, NorthWestern Energy said this week in the following news release:
The Madison River Basin is experiencing Severe and Extreme Drought conditions. Hebgen Reservoir is currently at an elevation of 6,524.6 feet, which is 10.3 feet from full pool. Inflows into Hebgen throughout the winter have been 79% of normal, while snowpack in the Madison River Basin is at 76% of normal levels and precipitation for the water year that began Oct. 1, 2021, is at 89% of normal levels.
NorthWestern Energy will reduce Hebgen Dam water releases from April 4-24 to the Madison River in order to capture more water in Hebgen Reservoir.
Upper Madison River flows may be reduced to 550 cubic feet per second at the Kirby U.S. Geological Survey gage and to 950 cfs below Madison Dam at the McAllister U.S. Geological Survey gage.
River recreationists should be aware of the lower flows and use caution. The public is asked to avoid walking on any Rainbow Trout spawning redds during this low flow period.
“NorthWestern Energy and our stakeholders decided to move forward with this plan to conserve water now to allow for that water to be used later in the year,” said NorthWestern Energy Manager of Hydro License Compliance Andy Welch in a statement. “Saving this water to supplement flows during the heat of the summer will help to reduce stress on fish from elevated water temperatures.”
“These management challenges are exacerbated when we are coming off a drought year like last year and into what is shaping up to be another challenging year,” said Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana Executive Director Mike Bias in a statement from NorthWestern. “Reducing flows out of Hebgen now to hopefully maintain adequate flows on the Madison through the summer and into fall is a necessary management decision although, not an easy one.”
“2022 is shaping up to be another very challenging season of drought on the Madison River with potentially too little water to fully meet all of the needs in the system,” NorthWestern Energy Director of Hydro Operations Jeremy Clotfelter said in a statement. “NorthWestern Energy is monitoring conditions and forecasts closely, while working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other stakeholders on options to conserve water.”
Hebgen Reservoir water is used to control the flows on the upper and lower Madison River year round to protect and maintain the long-term health of the river system and the fishery.
“NorthWestern Energy’s stewardship responsibilities of the river resources include balancing the many interests of multiple stakeholders,” said Clotfelter.
Current water levels at Hebgen Lake and flows and water temperatures are available at http://madisondss.com/page/dashboard.php. Learn more about NorthWestern Energy’s stewardship and management of the Madison River system at northwesternenergy.com/MadisonDrought
The public is invited to a meeting from 6-8 p.m. April 26 at El Western, 4784 U.S. Highway 287, in Ennis to discuss Madison River topics, including snowpack and streamflow forecasts for the Madison River, fish populations, the Hebgen Dam gate malfunction and the projects sponsored by the Madison Fisheries Technical Advisory Committee.
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