POTOMOC, Mont. -

Coca Cola has awarded a Blackfoot conservation group a $58,000 grant to help fund irrigation efficiency programs.

Blackfoot Challenge is made up of public and private land stewards.

Members are working to minimize the impacts of drought on all water users.

Coca Cola presented a big check to members of the non profit group.

It was a scenic setting in an irrigated field on a ranch in the Blackfoot Valley.

Coca Cola is impressed with the non profit's work.

By 2020, the company hopes to replenish the water it uses in its beverage production.

"We look to groups like Blackfoot Challenge," said Coca Cola's Maria Ashley.
"It's able to work in the community and replenish that water."

The group is made up of agricultural irrigators, anglers, homeowners associations, outfitters...businesses.

Members are working voluntarily to make the best use of water to accommodate all users, especially during droughts.

"We try to do a shared sacrifice," said Potomoc rancher Denny Iverson,"where we all give up a little bit of water later on in the season."

Fish Wildlife and Parks has a water right on the Blackfoot River to keep in stream flow high enough to support fish during a drought.

Blackfoot Challenge is working to minimize effects on agricultural irrigators with junior rights, while keeping in stream flows to support fish.

Irrigators could voluntarily limit water use to reduce stress to fisheries.

"It allows you to run your junior and turn off your senior or  close down a ditch and keep running a pivot." said Blackfoot Challenge executive director, Gary Burnett. "It depends. There are a lot of different plans, a lot of different aspects."

During low water, sportsmen might limit their fishing to morning and early afternoon to reduce stress on the fish they catch."

Blackfoot Challenge recommends testing irrigation pumps for maximum efficiency.

They say make sure sprinklers are putting out the right amount of water at the right time.

Call it fine tuning to make sure every drop of water counts.

"Keep the soil wet," said Burnett," don't let it dry out and June's your month."

"That's when we have it, that's when streams are flowing and there's plenty there," said Iverson. "There's plenty for us, there's plenty for the fish. There's plenty for the folks down in Missoula."

Iverson said if you get wet early, it gives your soil a cushion for the late summer days when water is short."