The rejection of the plan to send water from the Hungry Horse Reservoir to raise Flathead Lake in northwest Montana has sparked frustration among elected officials and local communities heavily reliant on the lake for their economy and livelihoods. The lake’s water levels have reached a record low for this time of year, dropping nearly 24 inches due to less-than-stellar snowpack and minimal rainfall in the region. Dock owners and marina managers have had to hastily remove boats from the lake to prevent them from getting stuck in the mud, while many docks have become unusable because of the low water levels. Calls were made to the Bureau of Reclamation to release water from the Hungry Horse Reservoir down the South Fork of the Flathead River to bolster Flathead Lake’s water level. However, the Columbia River Technical Management Team, considering the entire river system and downstream species’ needs, rejected the request, citing potential risks to the water supply later on.
Brian Lipscomb, CEO of Energy Keepers Inc., agreed with the decision, highlighting the complex trade-offs involved. Raising Flathead Lake even by a foot would require significantly lowering the Hungry Horse Reservoir. The current projections suggest that Flathead Lake will remain about 24 inches below full pool until September. Local and federal officials expressed frustration with the technical team’s decision, voicing concerns for businesses that depend on the lake and farmers in need of water for their fields.
The situation has sparked debates and differing viewpoints. Rep. Ryan Zinke suggested withholding funding from the Bureau of Reclamation to push for water managers to prioritize multiple uses, including recreation. However, Lipscomb emphasized that the primary issue lies with the ongoing drought and its implications for the region. He believes that releasing water from one reservoir to another is not a comprehensive solution to the challenges posed by climate change. Lipscomb predicts more extreme summers in the future, and this current situation might be a precursor to more such events.
As northwest Montana grapples with the impacts of dwindling water resources, the community faces the daunting task of finding sustainable solutions. Balancing the needs of local economies, agriculture, and natural ecosystems remains a complex challenge, requiring both short-term and long-term strategies to adapt to the changing climate and water availability in the region.
BY: Big Sky Headlines Staff