Montana Drought Levels Worsen for Summer 2022
Over half of Montana is suffering through Extreme Drought. In fact, about 80 percent of the state is in either Severe or Extreme Drought, according to USGS and NRCS reports. And warnings about water supplies and reservoir levels are already being published.
The Hebgen Dam at the head of the Madison River in the Greater Yellowstone area is 10 feet below full pool. Northwestern Energy, which had a gate malfunction at the dam last year, said this week that it will reduce the water releases this month to try to raise the level before summer temperatures arrive.
The officials are looking at protection of the fish in the river, including Rainbow Trout. And other officials understand the decision. Mike Dias, of Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, said in a news release that the reduction of flows in April to "hopefully maintain adequate flows on the Madison through the summer and into fall is a necessary management decision, although not an easy one." He said that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, BLM and Forest Service agreed. NorthWestern will have a public meeting in Ennis April 26 at 6 p.m. at El Western.
The Madison flows into the Missouri River, and the entire stretch of the Missouri River through Montana is in Extreme Drought. It flows into Fort Peck Reservoir, which was not at full pool last summer, and this month it's 11 feet lower than last year at this time. Elsewhere, other reservoirs are already low with less than normal spring runoff. Canyon Ferry is five feet below full pool and restrictions are expected.
What about the rest of the West?
As bad as the drought might be in Montana, the dry conditions are worse elsewhere in the West. The center of Oregon is at the worst dryness level - Exceptional Drought. There are parts of Nevada and New Mexico in the same situation. The lower streamflows on the Missouri caused problems downstream for barge traffic and are expected to happen again this year.