Montana water supply to help area farmers


Montana water supply to help area farmers

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Montana is looking good this year when it comes to water supply from streams and snow pack.

That's according to the newly released summer forecast by the USDA National Water and Climate Center.

Montana, Washington, Wyoming, and the northern areas of Colorado and Utah are expected to have normal to above average water supplies.

But other states in the West are facing drought-like conditions, including southwest Idaho, southern Utah, and California.

These predictions come out of a year's worth of snow melt and rainfall monitoring.

Water supply forecasts are important because they help give states a good idea if they should work toward flood prevention or prepare for drought.

It's not just states depending on those forecasts. Farmers are also keeping a close eye on the predictions.

Gallatin Valley farmer Walt Sales is always keeping an eye on the weather, deciding when he needs to turn his sprinkler system on or when he can let the rain take over.

Water for his irrigation system is funneled in from nearby rivers and snow pack.

Running his sprinklers cost labor and energy, and that's why he says the recent rain's been great for his business.

With the recent rainfall and all of this years heavy snow pack, some Gallatin Valley farmers have been able to temporarily turn off their irrigation systems, which they say will help them throughout the season.

"It's everything to us," Sales explained. "It depends on how many cows we can carry, how much hay we need to carry over, so it's huge."

The recent USDA forecast predicts a great water supply for Montana this season.

"We got more snow pack than normal," explained Gallatin River Water Commissioner George Alberda. "There will most likely be enough water to irrigate all summer."

Alberda explained it also affects water rights.

When water levels get low, senior water users who have long-owned their rights to irrigate get priority usage of the water supply over junior water holders, who have owned their rights for less time.

That means the junior water holders can't use their irrigation systems at all, even if they need to.

"I go on when the senior water holders cannot get their water," Alberda said. "Then I have to curtail the use of water by junior water holders."

But with this year's forecast, and the recent wet weather, Alberda said those junior water holders might not have to worry at all, for the first time in a couple of seasons.

And Walt explained when there's enough water for all area farmers, "it's going to relieve a lot of pressures."

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