Empty Lolo Creek Causes Problems for Ranchers, Fish - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Empty Lolo Creek Causes Problems for Ranchers, Fish

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LOLO -

For the second year in a row, Lolo Creek is running nearly completely dry, causing big problems for irrigators and already endangered trout species.

Clark Fork Coalition officials said poor snow packs have caused the lower stretches of Lolo Creek to stop flowing for the past six weeks straight.

"And, we've also had long, dry, hot summers -- very little precipitation in August and now early September," said Clark Fork Coalition Project Leader, Jed Whiteley.

Whiteley said they suspect people without water rights are pumping from the creek illegally, which also impacts water levels.

"We've had residents who have been here almost 70 years, living on the banks of the creek actually tell us that in their memory, this is the first time they can remember the creek going completely dry," Whiteley said.

Whiteley said ranchers with senior water rights have made due with the low creek levels, but those with only junior water rights have struggled to keep crops healthy with only well water.

"They have voluntarily made cutbacks this year, in their diversions to try to help out, but there's just so little water in the creek right now that event that has still led to the condition you're seeing today."

Clark Fork Coalition members said the several miles of dry creek bed have also stopped bull trout from moving off the Bitterroot River into the creek to spawn, and depleted habitats for other species.

Whiteley said, "I know it's been documented well over several hundred fish, and looks like a lot of native fish, whitefish and trout have killed in it."

Whiteley said now, the goal is to figure out how to at least keep Lolo Creek connected to the Bitterroot River during future dry years like 2013.

He said the Clark Fork Coalition has leased water rights from larger irrigators in the area to help keep water in the creek.

"We're hoping that through that research that we can come up with baseline levels that we can incorporate into a drought management plan."

Whiteley said they're also hoping to raise enough funding to hire a "ditch rider," who would patrol the creek next summer to ensure all irrigation is legal.

"And, it'll also just help us get a better understanding of where the problem areas in the creek are, where is the water going," Whiteley said.

Clark Fork Coalition officials said fire fighters pulled large amounts of water from the creek this summer to battle the Lolo Creek Complex fire, which drained the creek temporarily.

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