Written by The Herald-News
Montana's Water Supply Initiative process has been underway for the past month in the Lower Missouri River basin. With all six scheduled Basin Advisory Council Scoping Meetings wrapped up, the Lower Missouri River Council is beginning the process of determining which water resource issues are of most concern to residents of the basin.
The latest meetings were held in Roundup on Oct. 30, Harlowton on Oct. 31 and Havre on Nov. 7. Excellent public participation marked the meetings in the Musselshell and Milk river basins, with more than 40 attending in Harlowton.
Major concerns in the Musselshell included the state's water right adjudication process and whether fair distribution measures might be instituted on the Musselshell's tributaries; aging dams and canals serving irrigators in the basin; salinity problems in both the river and groundwater; decreasing annual precipitation with earlier spring run-off; loss of funding for maintenance of streamflow gages; and spread of noxious weeds along the river corridor, especially salt cedar and Russian olive.
Participants at the Havre meeting had a slightly different list of concerns, including the St. Mary diversion canal rehabilitation project; tribal water Compacts that have not yet been fully negotiated or ratified; the energy development industry's future water use demands; reduced capacity of water storage reservoirs that are filling with silt; and aging irrigation infrastructure.
A summary of the Musselshell Watershed Coalition's water history project entitled Drought, Flood, Saving, and Sharing: A History of Water Resource Supply, Conservation, and Distribution in the Musselshell River Basin of Montana was presented at the Roundup and Harlowton meetings.
The summary prompted a lively debate about the pros and cons of converting irrigation water use from flood to sprinkler. The conclusion reached was that research on soil and water salinity issues; return flow effect on downstream water supply; changes in water quantity used for crops; total quantities of water used by both methods; evaporation losses; long-term effect on soil conditions and productivity; irrigation labor expense and availability, among others, was needed before producers can make informed decisions about switching methods.
The next step in the Water Supply Initiative process will be adoption of a final report of issues gathered by the Lower Missouri River Basin Advisory Council during its scoping meetings. The report will serve as a basis for BAC recommendations made to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for presentation to several interim legislative committees.