Download the final report
from the Montana Rivers Project.

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About the AM400 soil moisture monitor

About the
soil moisture


Current Montana Streamflow Conditions

Current Montana
Streamflow Conditions


Current Montana Snowpack Conditions

Current Montana
Snowpack Conditions


Jefferson River Watershed Council

River Watershed Council


Sacrifice Conservation and the 2001 Drought

Sacrifice Conservation
and the 2000 Drought

pivot Montana Rivers Project
A Win-Win Solution for
All of Montana's Water Users


Wheel Line

Why Promote Irrigation Efficiency?

Increasing competition for Montana's water has brought with it increasing social conflict and created a need for new forms of cooperation and efficiency.

The Montana Rivers Project worked with irrigators on a cooperative basis, providing tools and information to help them avoid overwatering, use water and energy more efficiently, maintain correct soil moisture, and reduce their pumping expenses.

From 1998 to 2004 we worked in the Jefferson, Boulder, Blackfoot, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Clark Fork, Yellowstone, Missouri, and Ruby River valleys.


"I've been doing this for 31 years and I thought there was nothing about irrigation that I didn't know. This certainly has changed the way I look at it all."

- Jack Sullivan, Jefferson Valley irrigator


What Are the Benefits to the Irrigator?

  • A reliable and accurate way to track and maintain soil moisture.  Takes the guesswork out of watering.
  • Assurance that crops are receiving the correct amount of water for optimal growth.
  • Reduced pumping cost as a result of more efficient use of power and water.
  • Reduced leaching of costly and polluting nutrients into groundwater.


"Nobody that I know can look at the field and tell you how dry it is beneath the surface... You push the button and it tells you how dry it really is."

- Dave Brown, Jefferson Valley irrigator


How Did the Project Save Energy, Water, and Money?

NCAT worked with irrigators on a variety of management techniques tailored to their needs. We performed energy audits, installed weather stations, and monitored evapotranspiration rates for locally grown crops. We worked closely with local watershed groups and helped to create the Jefferson River Watershed Council. We also installed 63 AM400 soil moisture monitoring systems around Montana. The AM400

  • allows irrigators to check soil moisture whenever they like at up to six locations in their fields. Pilot Project Sign
  • automatically measures soil moisture every eight hours and displays the previous 35 days of measurements in simple-to-read bar graph.
  • records over ten months of soil moisture information, which can be downloaded at the end of season.
"I don't need to be irrigating just to see water pumping out here.  I'll only be irrigating when the crop needs the water and the soil needs the water."

- Bob Lombardi, Jefferson Valley irrigator

About NCAT

NCAT Logo The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is a private non-profit organization with offices in Montana, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Mississippi. NCAT runs programs on sustainable agriculture, energy conservation, and resource-efficient housing. Since 1988, NCAT's irrigation specialists have audited more than 350 sprinkler irrigation systems. Over 32,000 copies of NCAT's Irrigator's Pocket Guide have been distributed in 16 states.

Water Drip


Our Partners

The Montana Rivers Project promoted cooperation among all of Montana's water users and was supported by a diverse coalition of funders:

"I hope this will be an ongoing program, as its benefits to production ag in this valley are significant."

- Dave Scott, Jefferson Valley irrigator