Who Turned Off Our Creek?

July 16, 2015

Everyone can play a part in keeping our streams flowing.

When our streams get too skinny, Mark Twain’s old saying comes to mind: whiskey is for drinkin’, and water is for fightin’. During especially dry summers like this one, it’s easy to see why people might fight over water. It’s the vital lifeblood that feeds our crops, furnishes our recreation, and fuels our economy.

But this vital resource becomes scarce come August, when Montana’s creeks and streams start to dwindle–or even disappear. Low flows affect every part of the Clark Fork watershed, including many of the people and critters who live within it. Less water also means warmer water, which spurs the growth of green algae that chokes out fish and aquatic life. And less water also means less dilution of the pollution that trickles into our waterways, like legacy mine waste or even car oil washing off roads.

See how important it is to keep our creeks flowing? From supplying taps in town to irrigating crops in fields, our rivers and streams work overtime to deliver water where we want it. Unfortunately, our streams can’t always keep up with the demand–hence, Mark Twain’s adage.

Working cooperatively to fix the problem

lost horse creek before and afterAt the Coalition, we think there are more productive ways than throwing punches to address low flows. Rather than fighting over the precious water, the Coalition works on win-win solutions that restore water to reaches that need it most. We have a variety of tried-and-true tools, like water leases or irrigation efficiency measure, that improve streamflows for fish and for people.

For instance, we recently finished a landmark project on Lost Horse Creek in the Bitterroot that reunites this creek to the river and restores 10 cfs by replacing an old irrigation dam with a siphon. This project shows the power of partnerships when it comes to turning sticky situations into sweet deals all around.

While the Coalition works diligently on these kinds of large-scale flow restoration projects with the region’s biggest water users, we also count on all of you to help conserve water during the dry season. Everyone can do their part to keep our rivers clean and healthy. Water conservation is as simple as turning off the tap while you brush your teeth or do the dishes. But it can also be as fancy as replacing your lawn with less-thirsty native plants.

Below are a few tips that will help keep water in our aquifers and streams this summer.

Ways to Save Water Inside:

  • indoor water use graphicInstalling water-saving features like low-flow faucets and toilets can reduce your in-home water use by 35%.
  • Use a water meter to monitor your use and to check for hidden leaks: a small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water per day, and larger leaks can waste hundreds of gallons.
  • Insulate your water pipes with pre-slit foam pipe insulation. It’s easy and cheap, plus you’ll get hot water faster and avoid wasting water while it heats up.
  • Turn off the tap while washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or shaving.

How to Conserve Water Outside:

  • grass roots watering photoGet rid of the grass! Plant drought-resistant shrubs and flowers, or go with native plants or xeriscaping, instead.
  • Let your lawn grow taller: grass ~3″ high promotes water retention in the soil beneath it.
  • Water lawns in the early mornings, and give it a deep soak only when it needs it: if it springs back up when you step on it, your grass doesn’t need water. Learn more about watering your lawn!
  • Add 2-4 inches of mulch around trees and plants: organic material like bark or compost keeps weeds out and water in the soil.
  • Reduce the amount of water used on all outdoor landscaping by installing soaker hoses, a simple drip-irrigation system, or a rain barrel water system.

Did You Know?

  • Most people in North America use 50 to 70 gallons of water indoors each day.
  • 75% of all indoor water is used in the bathroom, including 28% for the toilet.
  • Running a sprinkler for two hours can use up to 500 gallons of water.
  • Washing a sidewalk or driveway with a hose uses~50 gallons of water every 5 minutes.

Calculate your water footprint.

Find more tips for conserving water at home.

Learn more about our streamflow restoration projects.

< Back to blog