Personal tools

Return to Top
DNRC Headquarters
1539 Eleventh Ave. Helena, MT 59601
Questions? Email us

Painted Rocks Reservoir

Painted Rocks 2.jpg

Reservoir Operations

The operation of Painted Rocks Reservoir involves three main parties: DNRC, the Painted Rocks Water Users Association (PRWUA), and the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP). Painted Rocks Reservoir stores approximately 32,362 acre-ft (ac-ft) of water, with 25,000 ac-ft marketed to the FWP and PRWUA. In addition, the Bitterroot River Water Commissioner manages the river to insure the apportionment and diversion of decree and contract waters.

DNRC owns the dam and the reservoir area. It is DNRC’s responsibility to insure that the reservoir is filled and operated safely and that water is available for delivery to the contract holders when it is called for.

The shares marketed to the PRWUA (10,000 ac-ft or 2/5th) is primarily used for agricultural purposes. This water can only be released when called for by the PRWUA. If you have any questions regarding the releases of contract irrigation water, please contact the PRWUA.
The shares marketed to FWP (15,000 ac-ft or 3/5ths) are used for in-stream flows. This water is released when called for by the FWP. If you have questions regarding the releases of contract fisheries water, please contact the FWP. The local FWP contact in the Bitterroot Valley is Chris Clancy (406-363-7169).

Date Last Updated:


Reservoir Elevation (FT_MSL)


Current Storage (ac-ft)


Inflows to Painted Rocks

Stream Name


Flow Rate (cfs)

Blue Joint Creek



West Fork Bitterroot River



Overwich Creek



Slate Stage



Little Boulder Creek



Total Inflow


500 cfs

Outflows from Painted Rocks Reservoir

USGS Gauge (ft)


Outflow before gate adjustment (cfs)


Outflow after gate adjustment (cfs)       


Water Contracts


Current Flow

Previous Flow Rate

Volume Delivered to Date

Volume Remaining

Days Remaining at Current Flow

Irrigation   Contracts







In-Stream Fisheries   Contracts









Painted Rocks Reservoir is full, and water started flowing over the spillway at approximately 4:00 am this morning.

The reservoir will be maintained at full pool level until contract water deliveries are requested.



Project Overview

On August 1, 2021, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) will begin a construction project below Painted Rocks Dam. The purpose of this project is to develop access for future maintenance, repairs, and safety improvements to the lower spillway and outlet area of the dam. 

Planned activities include the construction of a bridge and improvements to the existing primitive road. Approximately one-half mile of the road will be improved to a 16-foot width with gravel surfacing. A single-lane bridge will be constructed immediately downstream of the uppermost boat launch site on the West Fork Bitterroot River.

Construction activities will begin on August 1, 2021, and continue through the winter months. The project is expected to be completed in spring of 2022. Once completed, the public will have vehicular access to the improved road on the east side of the river, and foot access across the new bridge to public lands on the west side of the river. 

Access Advisories

Effective August 1, 2021, the uppermost boat launch downstream of the dam, along with the primitive road which passes near the USGS gaging station, will be closed to public use. Recreationists will find alternative river access at a developed fishing access site located about 3 miles downstream at Bonnie Blue Bridge, on Mud Creek Road.

The school bus turnaround area on West Fork Road (Hwy 473) will also be closed to general public use, though it will be opened at limited times to allow for the drop-off and pick-up of students.

Modified River Flows

To help facilitate construction activities, contract water deliveries and stream flows in the West Fork Bitterroot River will be reduced two (2) weeks earlier than normal.

  • Reductions in dam outflows will begin on September 1, 2021.
  • Flow reductions of approximately 50 CFS will be made every 3-4 days until September 20, 2021.
  • Releases from September 20 through December 31, 2021, will be held at 60 CFS.
  • Additional short-term stream flow reductions to 40 CFS may occur 3 to 4 days per week to accommodate construction activity. These reductions will last less than 4 hours.
  • From January 1 through March 31, 2022, stream flows will be held as low as possible but may reach 90 CFS or higher to manage reservoir levels in advance of spring runoff.

River flows and public access to the river will be fully restored following completion of this project prior to the 2022 runoff cycle. DNRC appreciates your understanding as we work to ensure Painted Rocks Dam remains safe and efficient into the future.

For more information, please contact DNRC at (406) 444-0465. Thank you!

I want to take time to remind everyone how Painted Rocks Reservoir is managed, and how releases are made. 

  1. The DNRC does not determine when contract water is delivered. The DNRC insures that the reservoir is filled in a timely fashion and kept full until water is requested by the contract holders. Whenever possible, gate adjustments are made mid-week, however they are conditions/contract delivery dependent.

  1. Decisions regarding the timing and size of the contract water releases are made by:

If you are interested, here are the online gages for Blue Joint Creek
( ) and the West Fork of the Bitterroot above the dam
( )

Painted Rocks Dam outflow information
The USGS gage link information for the gage immediately below the dam:  This site has flows that are recorded/displayed every 15 minutes and can be assessed by anyone at any time. Therefore it will give you the most up to date outflow information available for Painted Rocks Dam.


Water Projects Bureau
1424 9th Ave
Helena, MT 59620-1601
(406) 444-6646

Missoula Office
(406) 721-4284

PRWUA Directory