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Bitterroot River levels drop to 30 year low

Published On: Aug 11 2013 09:23:08 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 11 2013 09:27:38 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Waterways in western Montana have dropped to alarmingly low levels, frightening the farmers who depend on irrigation and worrying river managers charged with protecting the fish.

Sunday afternoon NBC Montana met with Jed Whiteley, a Clark Fork Coalition project manager, to find out what people can do to help.  

Whiteley tells us extremely low water levels can be detrimental to sensitive trout populations.  

“We're very concerned about the state of our rivers and the impact on the fish right now,” he says.  “Usually right around 68 degrees the trout really start to suffer, and like today, this river will probably hit close to 73 degrees by this evening.”

Whiteley says river managers have been monitoring the Bitterroot River’s water levels for the past 30 years and this is the lowest level they have ever recorded.

“A lot of people come here to fish and enjoy the rivers so it's a resource we're trying to protect,” he says.     

He tells NBC Montana project managers are working with farmers to conserve water while they irrigate but they also need your help.

Managers are asking folks to cut back on watering their lawns and gardens, to only water at night and to follow all fishing restrictions and closures.  

“If you do go fishing play the fish quickly and release them quickly,” says Whiteley.  “If you can pinch your barbs it will make releasing them faster because they get very stressed out in these higher temperatures.”

Whiteley tells us warm rivers mean less oxygen for the fish and that's why its critical people do not fish in closed areas.

“Maybe go fish a high mountain lake,” suggests Whiteley.  “You can still go fishing but maybe just lay off the rivers for a little while.”

He tells NBC Montana with more hot summers on the way, the Clark Fork Coalition is now in the process of creating a long-term river protection plan.

Clark Fork Coalition project managers are also asking farmers, who are interested in working with the coalition on a water-saving plan, to contact them.  To do so, click here.

For a list of fishing restrictions and closures, click here.