A Perfect World

Big Hole River near Wisdom 1988

Big Hole River 305 cfs, Maidenrock–350 cfs, Melrose

A perfect world for America pretty much started to end when Columbus stepped ashore here. In a perfect world here on the Big Hole there would be no wing dams, diversion dams, head gates etc. However they are here and are here to stay.

It is no secret that the state of Montana throughout the years issued way too many water rights on the Big Hole River. In almost any given year the water users have enough water rights to totally dry up the river.

It’s a pretty sad sight of that photo of the Big Hole in 1988. That was the year there was very little water and the water users on the upper river exorcised their legal right and took what there was. For 35 consecutive days the Big Hole up there ceased to flow. Thousands of fish perished and it was almost the total demise of the artic grayling. Wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been an off main stream storage that could have provided 20 cfs to the river. That is the minimum flow determined by MFWP to sustain minimum life.

With the low snowpack, record high temps and lack of rain the water users could easily taken all the water this year but they didn’t. The Big Hole actually held up very well considering all the above. Reason for it was the conservation efforts by water users spear headed for the most part by the Big Hole Watershed Committee. Developing springs on the upper river, drilling wells for stock water and conservation easements on many tributaries all helped to avoid a major fish kill.

Like I said before in a perfect world where man has not left his foot print and there were no wing dams, diversions etc. all would be fine and mother nature would have no problem dealing with it. But to believe that is believing in fantasy land along with the easter bunny and the tooth fairy. Man is here and has left his mark. The best we can do is deal with it in the best ways we can find. With that said I still believe it would  benefit greatly if we had some off river water storage sites. That’s  my opinion and you know what they say about opinions.


  1. Al,
    You found a hot topic!!!! Hope all is well. Can’t wait for your reports from Andros.

  2. You are right, Al, that in most cases we cannot turn back the clock to the “perfect world” or Eden of America before Columbus. Still, as Americans, we act on our faith that we can work toward a more perfect world. Of course, our goals don’t always jibe: for Butte Water, it’s an engineered streambed and pumphouse that’s an eyesore or even a danger to river recreationists; for ranchers, it’s sprinkler efficiency and larger hayfields and more cattle; etc.

    I was active with the Big Hole River Foundation/Watershed Committee (before the ugly divorce) a decade or so ago when they commissioned the feasibility study for a dam/water storage in the upper Big Hole. Contrary to some of my environmentalist friends (I’m an environmentalist, too), I supported the dam/water storage project–although I soon realized that for many ranchers it was seen as a way of providing more water for irrigation and not solely (or even primarily) as a means to augment Big Hole River flows.

    The political reality we’re left with is that no matter what is proposed, there will be a struggle to implement it, and there will be winners and losers (including fish and other wildlife). And the economic reality we’re left with is that in America today the federal government is unlikely to pony up tens of millions of dollars for even a small dam/water storage project. Among my goals for a more perfect world, there is a carbon tax that generated revenue for global warming mitigation projects–such as a dam/water storage on the upper Big Hole River…

  3. got a call from a friend who threw streamers from Browne’s to Glen yesterday.
    They got on the river around 10:00 a.m. and fished for about 6 hours. The caught well over 20 fish with a couple in the 18-20 inch range. He said it was beautiful, and with the river pushing closer to 400 CFS, even the hard boat made it relatively safely.

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