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Bitterroot River level reaches record low after 51 rainless days

By Will Wadley, KECI Weekend Anchor, wwadley@keci.com
Published On: Oct 12 2012 05:30:35 PM MDT
Updated On: Oct 12 2012 06:01:33 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

An unprecedented streak of rainless days in the Bitterroot Valley has residents there worried about low water levels on the Bitterroot River.

"It's extremely dry,” said Larry Rose, who has monitored the river near Darby for more than 15 years. “I've never seen the river so low."

The last time meteorologists in Hamilton observed precipitation in the Bitterroot was on August 22 – 51 days ago Friday.

Rose was born in Darby in 1942. He said the effects of the drought can be seen almost everywhere.

The air is still thick with smoke from wildfires in the region that continue to burn.

"It was pretty bad in the year 2000 at times too, but this lingered on for a lot longer than it did in 2000,” said Rose.

Fortunately, most Bitterroot farmers rely on irrigation to water their crops, but Rose said the Bitterroot and other waterways are so low, many of the farmers had to stop drawing water as early as September 8.

"Even on my own property here, things have really dried up. We had to shut the water down on the 8th of September this year – far earlier than we've ever had before."

Possible rain is in the forecast in the mountains surrounding the Bitterroot Valley, and there’s a chance it could reach the valley floor early Saturday morning.

The Bitterroot isn't the only place in the northwest that’s suffering from a record streak of rainless days. It hasn't rained in Orofino, Idaho, for 80 days.