Written by John Plestina
Several people from Roosevelt County offered comments on draft recommendations for a Lower Missouri River Basin water plan during a public meeting in Wolf Point Wednesday, May 7.
The meeting held in the Elks Club addressed water rights and water management, and was the fourth and final meeting the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation held with water users. Previous meetings were held in Harlowton, Havre and Lewistown.
The Lower Missouri River Basin Advisory Council is seeking public input on a recently completed draft report of recommendations. The policy document will be finalized later this month and forwarded to the DNRC in June. The DNRC is scheduled to adopt and print the final plan by Dec. 5. It would then be forwarded to the Montana Legislature.
Lawmakers amended the state water planning statute in 2009 requiring the DNRC to update the state water plan and directed the DNRC to report back to the 2015 Legislature.
Basin Advisory Councils were established in the Lower Missouri, Upper Missouri, Clark Fork and Yellowstone river basins during the summer of 2013, which coincided with the start of the Montana Water Supply Initiative project to update the state water plan the Legislature requested.
Draft recommendations include requesting legislative funding for additional research on the state’s aquifers, completion of the water rights adjudication process, possible new off-stream water storage sites and seeking funding partners for expanding and maintaining the network of streamflow gauges.
Adjudication of claims is one of several issues that were raised during the Wolf Point meeting.
“It’s hard to develop a plan if you don’t resolve claims first,” BAC facilitator Bill Milton said.
“Just because you have a legal claim on water, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use it and put it to good use,” he said.
Dwight Vannatta of Bainville said there are people he knows who have concerns about adjudication.
Milton, who is from Roundup, also addressed aquifer development and management.
“If you compromise the quality of the water in the aquifers, you jeopardize it,” he said.
Milton also said there were comments during previous public meetings in other towns that the draft didn’t go far enough to address protection of fisheries.
Milton said irrigators don’t have a clear understanding of fisheries.
DNRC water planner Mike Downey of Helena said most irrigation companies don’t share information from streamflow gauges.
“It would certainly help us,” Downey said.
There was a discussion that more gauges might be needed locally.
Vannatta said he would like to see gauging at the confluences where smaller rivers and streams flow into the Missouri River to provide more accurate information.
“A lot of gauges were being eliminated. We’re going backwards,” Culbertson area rancher Dick Iverson.
Milton said there is consideration of continuing with the basin advisory councils beyond the current process.
Downey posed a question of whether the people at the meeting felt the local group was effective or if sub basins would be a better option.
“What works in this area are ad hoc type committees,” Rhonda Knudsen of Culbertson said.
The draft report is available at www.dnrc.mt.gov/mwsi or by contacting Wendy Beye at 406-320-2124.
The Basin Advisory Council will look at public comments on the draft plan in the Fort Peck Interpretative Center at Fort Peck Wednesday, May 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Public testimony will not be taken at that meeting.