Ranchers help save fish in drought-stricken creek
September 19, 2012
(Missoula, Mont.) – Lolo Creek was in dire straits this week until local citizens took action on Wednesday to add water and rescue fish. The stream’s lower reach recently dried up due to dry conditions and irrigation withdrawals, leaving trout and other aquatic life stranded in small pools above Lolo Creek’s confluence with the Bitterroot River. Concerned community members worked quickly to save fish and reduce irrigation withdrawals from the stream. As of Wednesday, Lolo Creek was beginning to flow again.
Kevin Leittl helps to rescue stranded fish in Lolo Creek near Missoula
Lower Lolo Creek is facing drought conditions this year
Last weekend, Lolo residents Kevin and Matthew Leittl noticed Lolo Creek was dry one-half mile below the Highway 93 Bridge. The Leittls alerted other community members to the problem, and volunteered their time to move stranded trout from isolated pools into cooler, flowing water. Meanwhile, several ranchers along Lolo Creek voluntarily reduced their irrigation water withdrawals from the creek, which added a critical influx of water to the stream.
The Clark Fork Coalition, a conservation non-profit based in Missoula, measured flows in Lolo Creek on Wednesday as part of its ongoing flow monitoring program. The Coalition manages 15 flow restoration projects that provide much-needed water to 10 chronically dewatered streams—including Lolo Creek. The group brokers voluntary contracts with water users with the goal of keeping tributaries connected to rivers. The Coalition monitors three water right leases on Lolo Creek that deliver 4.37 CFS on in-stream flow during the dry summer and fall months.
“We applaud the quick voluntary response from Lolo Creek water users,” said Andy Fischer, the Coalition’s project manager. “The Coalition has been working to improve flows in Lolo Creek for eight years. We hope to continuing partnering with more landowners on win-win projects that meet irrigation needs and also keep the creek flowing year-round.”
According to the Coalition’s flow measurements on Tuesday evening, Lolo Creek was flowing at a rate of 37 cubic feet per second (CFS) near Fort Fizzle. However, even after an influx of water from reduced irrigation use, the creek was only flowing at 5 CFS near the Highway 93 Bridge and was still mostly dry at its confluence with the Bitterroot River.
Unfortunately, Lolo Creek is not unique—thousands of streams dry up or run dangerously low this time of year due to a lack of rain and irrigation withdrawals. Groups like the Coalition try to address the problem by working with water users to develop stream-specific water lease agreements, irrigation efficiency upgrades, water conservation projects or water source switches.