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.