With drought conditions in some parts of Montana already impacting streams—primarily in the southern tier of the state—Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is gearing up now to protect fish from the potentially life-threatening stress of low flows and elevated water temperatures.

The United States Geological Service data shows stream flows across southern Montana are dropping well below normal.  "In some areas low stream flows are already occurring and are expected to intensify later this summer, especially for streams and rivers without reservoir storage," said Andy Brummond, FWP’s water conservationist.

Low flows, high water temperatures, and competition for space and food stress trout. Fish are often physically compromised and can die from the higher water temperatures, lower oxygen levels and disease. These threats can affect adult trout numbers in future years.

To battle drought conditions, FWP employs certain fishing restrictions and carries out state-owned instream water rights.

For instance, limiting fishing hours to 12 a.m. to 2 p.m. is one technique FWP uses to reduce the impact on drought-stressed fish. A full fishing closure is another option if conditions worsen. FWP also has instream flow water rights, some granted more than 40 years ago, aimed at keeping enough water in a stream to keep fish healthy.

"Anglers could see fishing restrictions on some streams later this summer if drought conditions persist," Brummond said. He similarly anticipates that FWP will require water users with newer, or "junior," water rights to stop diverting water when flows drop below long-established instream-flow levels.

Angling restrictions and closures information is located on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov.  Click "News" then "Drought & Fire."

Information about all water rights, including those of FWP, can be obtained from Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation water resources offices as well as the Montana State Library Natural Resource Information System’s website at http://nris.mt.gov/interactive.asp.

Additional information about FWP instream flow water rights can be obtained by contacting Brummond at abrummond@mt.gov, or call 406-538-4658 ext. 224; or Michael McLane at mmclane@mt.gov, or call 406- 444-1563.

The Montana Governor’s Drought Advisory Committee’s Web page provides information and links that report conditions and current forecasts at drought.mt.gov.

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