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In the news: Low flows

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Re-posted from the Clark Fork Coalition’s ‘River Blog’
by Jill Alban, CFC Outreach Director

This summer’s low streamflows hit the western portion of the state and the Clark Fork basin particularly hard. It’s been a trend for several decades, but this year has been especially bleak, with images of dead fish and skinny, bony rivers showing up in many different local, regional, and even national news outlets.

Close to the CFC home office in Missoula, the media has been giving Lolo Creek the bulk of its attention. In August, KPAX’s Dennis Bragg kept viewers up to speed on the ways the Lolo Creek Complex Fire was exacerbating dry conditions on an-already struggling Lolo Creek. And, this coverage was actually his second story in two years about a dried-up Lolo Creek – in 2012, his breaking coverage of fish rescue efforts by local residents first helped draw attention to a big problem. But as he explains, this year the “need for water for fire protection created the unintended consequence of completely draining the creek.”

Lower stretches of Lolo Creek are still dry as of late September. Many news outlets in Missoula continue to track the local misfortune, and are turning to the Clark Fork Coalition to help them tell the story. CFC Project Manager Jed Whiteley partnered up with Bobbie Bartlette of the Lolo Creek Watershed Group to explain to the Missoula Independent just why it’s been so bad in recent years. As Jed explains in the article, “Lolo Creek needs a lot of help. It needs habitat restored. It needs to be cleaned up. But right now what it needs most is more water.”

Although print reporting is one way to tell a story, television captures the heart-wrenching images of belly-up fish and gravel beds much better than words ever can. Emily Foster from ABC-Fox put her camera to work in September to document the dire situation on Lolo Creek. Her simple images (like the one below) tell a stark story.
Finally, the state of the rivers in Montana this year have captured national media attention, too. As Ben Jarvey of National Geographic notes in ‘Climate Change Spells Trouble for Anglers,’ angling restrictions on rivers in Montana are having tremendous impacts on local guides and the recreation industry. Jarvey also explores how low streamflows often translate into warmer stream temperatures, creating conditions that are less favorable to native fish – and fishing. He cites a 2013 National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report stating that “half of the major American rivers surveyed in a 2010 study experienced significant warming trends over the past 50 to 100 years.”

At the Coalition, we’re grateful that our local and national media partners are helping to get the story out about our rivers in need. And as tough as it’s become, there’s a lot we can do together to alleviate the problem — and a lot we’re already doing. When news outlets spread the word about the problem of low flow, more people understand that we need to find real fixes. This wide-ranging support helps us to rewater thirsty streams through our flow restoration program, by which we utilize voluntary, instream flow agreements to give water users incentives to reduce or cease irrigating, either permanently or at certain times. Already, we’ve returned nearly 80 cubic feet of water (nearly 36,000 gallons per minute) to creeks and streams — and you can help us do more.

Are you seeing low flows on your local creeks and streams this summer? Contact us to see how we might be able to help. Plus, learn more at clarkfork.org.

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