Laws Processes Policies

July 10, 2019

The exciting stuff behind the scenes

Changing irrigation practices so that more water can stay instream is a powerful win-win solution to de-watering. But there’s a bit more to it. To keep water instream, it must be legally protected. In Montana that means applying to the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to change a water right from its previous use to “instream flow.” This “change application” process is a big part of CFC’s flow restoration work – and we know from experience that it can be both challenging and time-consuming. To make it as easy as possible for water rights holders to help local creeks, we’re advocating for improvements to, and streamlining of, the process to help lower those procedural barriers.

We’re also working to ensure that water policies themselves – and how they are applied – do not impede water conservation efforts. For example, in response to a 2016 CFC change application, DNRC decided that just 17% of the water right in question could be protected for instream flow. We found no legal or logical reason for the decision, it wasn’t enough water to actually help the creek, and the precedent was troubling. So we challenged the decision. In April 2019 the Montana Water Court agreed with us, ordering the agency to grant our instream flow request in full. We don’t yet know if the ruling will change future decision-making on instream flow projects, but it ensures instream flow protection remains a viable tool to help depleted creeks.Monitoring streamflow on Lost Creek

Finally, after instream flow is secured and then protected, we need to ensure that the water that’s supposed to be in the creek is actually there. To keep tabs, and to track stream vital signs while we’re at it, CFC regularly monitors some 35 sites on nearly 20 streams throughout the summer. That regular check-in allows us to take action if needed, catch new problems quickly if and when they arise, and to develop new projects.

Read more about the primary challenges impacting Montana’s wild and native trout and the fixes underway in the “Trout Trails and Tribs” edition of Riffles.

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