Water Situations: Captain’s Column (4.9.15)
By angelamontana

Posted: April 9, 2015

The water drought news last week in California and the mandatory restrictions that their Governor is putting in place got me thinking about Montana’s overall water situation and how it might affect fishing this spring and summer. As you know we have had a strange winter in Montana. The snowpack for the most part is below normal but the average precipitation to date in some areas of Montana is actual above normal. What does this mean for our rivers streamflow and our reservoirs water elevation? It is too early to tell what kind of affect the lack of snow pack will have because we still have what is historically three of the wettest months of the year ahead of us when it comes to precipitation. So if we receive normal precipitation for April, May, and June then for the short term the water elevations should be okay on the reservoirs. Montana does have some bright spots. Currently the reservoir water levels are better than they were last year on Canyon Ferry and Fort Peck Reservoir. Those two popular reservoirs for anglers are always at the mercy of how much water is inflowing and how much water that is discharging through their respective dams. For example this week Canyon Ferry actually has more water going in than is going out. It is receiving 4875 cubic feet per second (CFS) and the reservoirs discharge is 3936 cfs. Canyon Ferry’s current water elevation is about 11 feet below full pool which means that the popular Broadwater boat ramp on the south end of the lake is useable at 3.1 feet of water above the minimum launch level. Last year for much of the spring the ramp was not usable because the water level in the reservoir was drawn way down in anticipation of the 2014 above average snowpack spring run-off.

Fort Peck Reservoir has even better news when it comes to its current water elevation. This week the water elevation is 2235.71. That level is a few feet above the water level the 134 mile reservoir had last year at this time. The inflow currently on Fort Peck Reservoir is 6000 cfs and the discharge rate is 6800 cfs.

Anglers that fish Fort Peck know that the current water level can only help the fish population with critical spring spawn for walleye, northern pike and smallmouth bass coming in the next three months respectively. The additional water is also good for the food source of forage fish that the walleye, northern pike and bass feed on. How long all this water will stay in Fort Peck depends on moisture we receive in the next couple of months and how much water they discharge downstream. The amount that the US Army Corp of Engineers discharges all depends on how much water is needed by the reservoirs downstream on the Missouri River. This is what John Daggett from the US Army Corp of Engineers forecasts for the water elevation on Fort Peck this spring and summer, “Our Basic Forecast which assumes average precipitation that came out last week predicts about a half a foot rise the next month. It looks like the reservoir level will peak by early May and then slowly decline.  As you are probably aware, our snowpack is below average somewhat this spring.  Unusual weather can change things up or down and we seem to have more unusual weather than we used to.  All of the boat ramps on Fort Peck should have plenty of water this year”.

(Written by the Captain – aka Mark Ward)