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DNRC Headquarters
1539 Eleventh Ave. Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 444-2074 | Fax: (406) 444-2684
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Drought conditions scarce; flooding a concern


HELENA, Mont. – Montana’s 2017 water year will be the best in several years, with minimal drought concerns for the growing season, and water supplies in excess of normal in the Flathead and Bighorn River basins, according to the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee (DWSAC).

“Drought will not be an issue this year,” said Ada Montague, DWSAC’s staff and a water planner with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). “Wibaux and Fallon counties are slightly dry at this time, along with Fergus, Judith Basin, Silver Bow and Jefferson, but we continue to get timely spring rain, reducing concern in those areas.”

Montague said staff will continue to monitor conditions in the Sun, Judith and Smith river sub-basins, along with Hyalite Creek and the Upper Clark Fork, for any signals of returning drought. These areas experienced early runoff and low stream flows the previous two years and showed below-average snow accumulations earlier this winter.

Flooding, on the other hand, is a concern. The May - July forecast for Yellowtail Dam on the Bighorn River is 278% of average flows. April inflows topped 412% of average, and May inflows at 382% of average. As a result, 13,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) are being released from Yellowtail Dam in hopes of controlling flooding; Montague said those high flows will likely continue through July. The Bureau of Reclamation is monitoring both upstream and downstream conditions in its management of Yellowtail Dam and is holding weekly stakeholder calls to ensure coordination.

Flooding on the Flathead River is also likely this spring and early summer. The Flathead has Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) measurements of 125% of normal and stream flow volume forecasts indicate flows of 146% of normal.  Flathead Lake was at 66% of capacity at the end of April with Hungry Horse releasing 10,400 cubic feet per second (cfs) of total discharge. Since then, Flathead Lake has filled to 2,890.5 feet, just under three feet from full. There is between 40-50,000 cfs coming in and 40,000 cfs leaving, allowing for a gradual fill. The lake will fill by the July Fourth holiday and will remain at that level until it is lowered in the fall per usual. However, localized flooding is anticipated this season and water users should be prepared.

Here are some links that may be useful:

River Forecasts 

Hungry Horse Project

Se̓liš Ksanka Ql̓ispe̓ (SKQ) Project 

Elsewhere in the state, moisture across northwest Montana (Blaine, Phillips, Valley, Daniels and Sheridan counties) is slightly above average, as are five counties in south-central Montana (Sweet Grass, Stillwater, Carbon, Yellowstone and Treasure). The remainder of the state is rated at or near normal.

For more information visit www.drought.mt.gov or contact staff for the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee, Ada Montague (406) 444-6628, amontague@mt.gov