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Big Hole River file photo

In this file photo, a young fisherman gets ready to fish on the Big Hole River last year. The Big Hole Watershed Committee releases the 2017 drought management plan, which is mostly the same as the 2016 drought management plan.

Despite generous snow pack and a cool spring, the Big Hole Watershed Committee is preparing for the possibility of drought with an updated 2017 drought management plan.

Except an updated introduction and a note in the amendments, the plan remains unchanged. 

According to Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, river and tributary flows basin-wide have been near double of median flow this time of year and the entire basin average snowpack is 110 percent of average.

But in the event of a hot, dry summer, the committee’s drought management plan coordinates voluntary action for irrigators and water users to reduce water use, maintain minimum river flows and, for the fishing community, to reduce fishing to protect the river.

If conditions decline over the summer, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will begin enforcement of fishing restrictions to further protect the fishery based on high water temperature, low flow or both. The plan divides the Big Hole River into five sections. Actions are determined by water temperature and flow measured in five locations. The plan was established in the late 1990s and is reviewed annually and updated as needed.

As part of the plan, the committee funds three USGS real-time temperature gauges for the stations Big Hole River-Wise River at Dickey Bridge, Notch Bottom, and Maiden Rock from July 1 to September 30 at $3,600 a year and also sponsors four upper Big Hole River USGS flow gauges.

Visit the “River Conditions” page on the BHWC.org website for the plan, interactive map, current conditions, restrictions, forecasting, and more. For additional information, visit bhwc.org/fish-water/river-conditions or 406-960-4855.

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