About the Big HOle River Drought Management Plan

Shared Sacrifice, Shared Success

The Big Hole River Drought Management Plan designates target river flow and temperature conditions for fish health in five river sections of the Big Hole River. The plan includes voluntary conservation targets for all water users, MFWP fishing restriction criteria, and information tools. Conservation actions are designed support the health of the fishery.

The plan outlines voluntary conservation actions and relies on Shared Sacrifice, Shared Success – if all users sacrifice, we can all be successful in protecting the fishery. The plan also designates MFWP fishing restrictions when drought conditions reach critical levels.

The BHWC DMP originated in 1997. The plan is reviewed annually by a committee made up of irrigators, fishermen, conservation groups, and agency representatives as well as the entire BHWC.

River Conditions

Streamflow Forecast

From Jacqueline Knutson, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Hydrologist. As of 3/20/2019:

Streamflows: Gages are seasonal and are not currently reporting flows.

Snowpack: Snowpack conditions improved greatly across southwest Montana last month and the boost we got at the end February and beginning of this month nudged us into the (barely) above average category. Currently the snowpack in the Big Hole Basin is average, sitting at 95% of normal. The Jefferson Basin is 108% of normal. As we move into the spring it is still possible to augment our snowpack as March through May often yield a significant portion of the yearly snowpack depending on temperatures. We can also usually expect peak snowpack to occur in late April and the most important piece of the snowpack story is the timing and availability of runoff. Lower elevations are above average due to the February storms but high elevations are still below average which will have a greater effect on late spring availability of runoff.

Precipitation: Precipitation in Montana was above average in February, particularly in parts of southwest Montana. After two months with average to below average precipitation it’s been nice to see snow accumulating at the SNOTEL sites around the state. Between February 26 and March 8 enough snow fell in the Big Hole valley to bring our snowpack up to 100% of average. Warmer temperatures have reduced that to 95% rather quickly but given the dry December and January we had the addition of a strong February for precipitation is very good.

Temperatures: Temperatures in February were the coldest recorded in Montana since 1936 and across the state the average temperature was 4.6F with an average temperature departure of 19.5F from normal. This shift from above average temperature to well below average occurred over the space of a few hours (and in some places a few minutes—temperature changes of 30 degrees in 10 minutes were recorded in some areas) around the 2nd of February and stayed consistently around 0F from the rest of the month and into the early part of March. As March has pressed on, though, we have swung to the other side of the pendulum and we are seeing warmer than average temperatures over the last few days and this will continue for the foreseeable future (10 day forecast).

Forecast: A weak El Nino formed in January and is persisting through the spring. The effects of this weak El Nino were clear in January but February brought a change in flow and we had good precipitation and bitter cold temperatures. El Nino should stick around (55% chance) through at least May if not through the summer and even though we got some respite from normal El Nino conditions last month don’t be surprised if the faucet turns off and true El Nino conditions return to Montana. The three-month outlook currently favors average precipitation through the rest of the spring and above average temperatures through the early spring.

View the Forecast Details

2016 Fundraising


2018 USGS Gage Bill:

Water Temperature at Big Hole River @ Wise River (Dickie Bridge), Maiden Rock, and Notch Bottom (Glen):

USGS Flow Gages for Upper Big Hole CCAA program:

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Wise River Real-Time Gage

Success Story

The Wise River real-time gage was installed near the mouth of the Wise River October 2015. The Big Hole Watershed Committee sought installation in order to continue flow and temperature monitoring in the Wise River, as well provide information for Wise River irrigators. The gage reports flow, stage and water temperature in real-time via Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Surface Water website. The gage is part of the 2015 launch of DNRC & Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology real-time monitoring system for small streams, who installed and operates the gage. Funding was provided by Big Hole Watershed Committee, The Nature Conservancy, and Montana Trout Unlimited and is graciously hosted on the PKR Ranch. The Big Hole Watershed Committee in partnership with DNRC, MFWP, and Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology have been conducting monitoring of the Wise River surface and groundwater since 2011.

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