County leaders evaluate water levels along Gallatin River


Elected leaders evaluate water levels along Gallatin River

BOZEMAN, Mont. - NBC Montana has been following the latest facts about irrigation issues in the Gallatin Valley all summer. We toured the Gallatin River with lawmakers and conservationists to get a first hand update on water levels and drought conditions on the river.

Lawmakers evaluated sections of the river from the Gallatin Gateway to Four Corners. While out on the river we could see how in some areas, water levels were lower.

Tom Michalek is a hydrogeologist at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in Butte. Michalek told us some people in the area are having issues getting enough water to support their products.

"When you have less water, some people don't get the water they need," said Michalek.

He says since 2011 dry conditions have stressed the Gallatin River, leaving less water for farmers and ranchers to take care of crops and livestock.

Michalek told us changing weather patterns have left the area with less snowpack and it's something irrigators need to pay attention to.

"We've seen a lower than average snowpack, almost all of our water comes from snowpacks," said Michalek.

Representative JP Pomnichowski (D-Bozeman) walked the Gallatin River Friday with the tour.

Pomnichowski explained that everyone in the valley needs to pay attention to the water they use.

"Water your garden, or farmer waters a crop, or someone comes to fish or float -- that's a water use," said Pomnichowski.

Michalek says the water taken from the Gallatin goes beyond the banks of the rivers and irrigation ditches. He says it recharges the groundwater, which helps keep the water flowing late in the dryer seasons.

"Beneficial to flows in the river during that time of the year when it's typically dry and flows are really," said Michalek.

Lawmakers tell us they will take what they learned Friday and use it to better shape future water policy.

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