Lowering Water Level Threatens Fishery at Willow Crk Reservoir
By angelamontana

Posted: July 23, 2019

A recent article by Karl Puckett in the Great Falls Tribune revealed information on the lowering of Willow Creek Reservoir, which, if emptied, the fishery there would be killed:

Willow Creek Reservoir, a popular fishery featuring rainbow trout and tiger muskie, is being lowered in order to make critical repairs to the dam gates, a move that will kill the fishery if it’s completely emptied.

Montana Fish, Wildlife Parks, after noticing the 32,300-acre-foot reservoir was dropping, requested a meeting with Greenfields Irrigation District, which maintains the reservoir, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns it, about mitigating the effects of the repairs to the fishery, said Eileen Ryce, FWP’s Fisheries Division administrator.

“The is a huge economic impact to the community, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about rebuilding that fishery,” Ryce said.

Discussion of building a temporary coffer dam to allow the repairs to made in the dry, and saving the fishery, were discussed at the meeting, with FWP offering to cost-share the expense, Ryce said.

“The time is coming close where it gets too low where the fish are going to be harmed because of the low water,” Ryce said.

As of Monday, the reservoir had been lowered 14 feet from full capacity, with another 48 feet to go before it’s empty.

The reservoir would be empty by mid-August barring major rain events.

The reservoir level was at 4,128 feet Monday and dropping.

The last time it dropped to 4,115 feet 90 percent of the fishery was lost, Ryce said.

“This is a regrettable event,” said Erling Juel, Greenfields’ district manager. “We understand Fish, Wildlife and Parks is going to experience a tremendous loss of their resources and fishery, and people that use it (will too).”

However, the cost of building a structure around the front of the inlet to maintain a portion of water in the reservoir while the repairs are completed is estimated to be $200,000 to $240,000, Juel said.

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(feature photo via Big Sky Fishing)