Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) will reopen the Bitterroot River to floating from Woodside to Tucker Fishing Access Sites beginning July 7.
This five mile stretch of river has been closed to floating since mid April when high flow conditions raised concerns that it would be difficult to impossible for boaters to reach a safe spot to carry (portage) their boats around the Supply Ditch Diversion Dam, located about three miles downstream from the Woodside access site.
FWP set a target reopening of July 7 or river flows measuring 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) or less.
“Floating over the dam is not safe at any river level, so boaters must be prepared to portage,” said Pat Saffel, FWP Region 2 Fisheries Manager. “The river is still flowing fast, and we recommend avoiding this stretch of river unless you are an experienced boater.”
FWP is asking that people self assess their skills, ability to maneuver their watercraft and current river conditions before floating this section of river. If you are unsure about your ability to access the portage, don’t float.
Signs at upstream access sites and along the river warn boaters of the location of the dam and portage. FWP added additional signage this week at to increase awareness of the portage location.
The diversion dam is a low-head dam built to divert water for irrigation. It creates dangerous currents that have caused several boating accidents over the past several years, including a fatality in 2013.
Bitterroot water levels, as of July 3, were high enough that floaters can also choose to take the river’s west channel and avoid the dam, when the river splits approximately a half mile above the diversion dam. It is uncertain how long water levels will remain high enough to avoid the dam by floating the west channel.
Saffel reminds floaters to check river conditions, and familiarize themselves with a river map and the portage location prior to launching.
Saffel says that a seasonal river closure is not a good long-term solution. FWP is currently working with a group of stakeholders that has developed a structural fix to make the dam safer for passage. The group is pursuing funding from the stakeholders, grants and hopefully other sources if they become available.
(Report by Montana FWP)