Western Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke introduced the Fill the Lake Act. The legislation would require the Department of Interior to maintain a minimum pool level on Flathead Lake of 2892’ MSL (mean sea level) and a maximum of 2893’ MSL from June 15th to September 15th of each calendar year. If enacted, the Fill the Lake Act would prevent a repeat of the 2023 season when regulators allowed the lake to drop almost two feet below full pool.
During the spring 2023, the Flathead Lake ecosystem experienced a rapid runoff of snow melt. This was exacerbated by the slow-working bureaucracy of the unelected officials of the technical management team (TMT) that advises the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the Columbia River System and the lack of a finalized and enforceable drought management plan. The result was water levels as much as 22 inches to 2 feet below full pool in areas. This created hazardous conditions for boaters, cut off maritime evacuation routes, and was a massive economic blow to the communities and businesses surrounding Flathead Lake that rely on the lake for the recreation economy, agriculture, and in some cases for evacuation from wildfires.
“This is a made in Montana solution. Fill the lake is a one-page bill – and it should be – it’s not a difficult concept,” said Congressman Zinke. “Hungry Horse Reservoir exists for the management of water downstream, and that means Flathead Lake. Unfortunately, the delays and bureaucracy created by the Department of the Interior and the technical management team made a bad situation even worse. This bill takes out the ambiguity and forces the Department and its unelected bureaucrats to do their most basic job so that Montanans don’t suffer from their mistakes again. I’m grateful to the county commissioners, Senator Greg Hertz and the many engaged business owners and residents who kept me and my team informed every step of the way. This bill really is a community effort.”
State Senator Greg Hurtz said, “The Congressman and his team have been involved in this issue from the first voice of concern and I couldn’t be more thankful. He’s been vital to ensuring our local economy doesn’t suffer at the hand of poor management decisions at the federal level.”
Flathead County Commissioner Randy Brodehl said, “The Fill the Lake Act he’s introduced addresses issues we faced this summer across the board with just one bill. Zinke understands what this means for our way of life in Montana and has fought for our state the whole way through.”
Lake County Commissioner Gale Decker said, “At a local level, we rely on the lake for fundamental operations to keep our people safe. It’s an access point for our water cannons during wildfire season and serves as an emergency evacuation route when locals need out. Our lake levels need to be consistent which is why I fully support Zinke’s Fill the Lake Act.”