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    Sacrifice Conservation and the 2000 Drought

In 2000 Montana experienced what many experts are calling the worst drought year since 1977 and the worst wildfire year since 1910. By early August the Jefferson River had dropped to just 20 cubic feet per second below Waterloo Bridge.

The fledgling Jefferson River Watershed Council – which had barely existed a year ago -- managed to reach consensus on a drought management plan and instream flow targets. Through a combination of conservation measures, shared sacrifice, and better communication, the watershed council met its instream flow targets for all but seven days. This included a goal of keeping at least 50 cubic feet per second in the river below Waterloo Bridge. The river never experienced the extremely low September flows that were seen in the previous drought year of 1994.

While streams were going dry all over Montana, flows in the upper Jefferson River actually increased almost continuously during the first three weeks of August. The three largest ditches on the river substantially limited their diversions, and flows in these ditches were 5 - 20% below normal almost continuously from mid-July onward.

The Montana Rivers Project
National Center for Appropriate Technology
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 3838
3040 Continental Drive
Butte, Montana 59702