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Drought is keeping Montana rivers low, and farmers and recreators are changing their habits

Yellowstone River
Posted at 7:43 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 08:52:49-04

BILLINGS — With 98.7% of Montana experiencing severe drought, rivers and streams are unusually low for the start of fall, which is changing the habits of dog walkers, recreators and farmers who rely on the water supply.

“Water levels in the rivers and streams are low across much of the state. We have seen a little bit of a recharge with that due to some precipitation we got in August, which was super beneficial. But since September began, it’s been pretty dry again. Most of those impacts are widespread agricultural impacts across the state: crop loss, hay shortages, and reservoir levels being low,” said Arin Peters, a Great Falls-based hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

Low reservoir levels have forced irrigators to cut back on watering crops or stop usage entirely.

Some effects that the water levels and drought have had on wildlife is that water temperatures are too high for the cold-water fish often found in Montana, natural watering holes have dried up, and food could be scarce.

“A lot of wildlife impacts might be similar to what ranchers face with forage. With very little vegetation growing, or it died off a lot sooner wildlife might have trouble finding green vegetation to feed themselves,” said Peters.

Ross Waples, a Billings resident who takes his dog for walks by the Yellowstone River every day, says that the low water levels have changed the channels on the river, which has led to him not being able to canoe down the river.

It has also impacted his dog.

“This a Newfoundland dog, the kind that went to Lewis and Clark to the pacific. She sure loves the water and it sure hurts her whenever the water level is low because she can’t find places to swim,” Waples said from Riverfront Park.

Billings is on track to have one of the driest Septembers on record.