Saturday, July 20, 2024

When you hear that next summer’s drought will be a repeat of 2023 for Flathead Lake and to get used to it - don’t believe them

by Dan Benesch
| December 6, 2023 12:00 AM

It wasn’t hard to see that Northwestern Montana experienced unique and serious drought conditions last summer. And it has been convenient to blame the weather cycle on the lack of water for irrigation, the thousands of boats left on their trailers, the plumes of dangerous algae growing in the Lake, and the dozens of marinas and lake-oriented businesses negatively impacted during their money-making season. 

But 2023’s outcome didn’t have to be this way.

You have likely read advice from local sources that it is best if we all learn to adapt to a new normal regarding the fluctuation of the Flathead River Basin and Flathead Lake. 

Well, the National Organization to Save Flathead Lake (NOSFL - takes issue with what you have read. This organization is a non-partisan, nonprofit foundation that has been involved since the mid-80s. Their mission has been and is to balance the needs of the various stakeholders in the Flathead watershed. It has reactivated itself this year to represent those who were impacted by the low water levels in Flathead Lake. 

NOSFL can demonstrate that had the management of the SKQ dam (Energy Keepers) implemented the thoughtfully engineered 390-page DROUGHT MANAGEMENT PLAN, built specifically for the (then) Kerr Dam for drought situations and published by the Bureau of Indian affairs, Lake Levels would have been down by 12 inches not 24 to 36 inches.

The more important question is if we experience another Spring and Summer in 2024 like 2023, will it be managed differently? No one has yet to answer that question. You should demand that question get answered by the people who can make that happen.

You have read that Congressman Zinke has proposed legislation to require a different outcome. This Bill deals specifically with more water to fill the lake. Rember, this summer, the powers that be, would not release more water to help with levels in Flathead Lake.

But there is another critical part of the formula. That is to ensure that the outflows at the south end of the lake are managed with drought conditions in mind. And the persons to ensure that gets done is first: the Secretary of the Interior who needs to approve the Drought Management Plan of 2010, built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a committee of other stakeholders. And second: the operators of the dam in Polson must call for the implementation of the Drought Plan, as soon as it is warranted. Otherwise, the massive private and commercial damage done to the NW Montana economy will repeat itself.

NOSFL is working with all stakeholders to create a well-informed community and a win-win solution for everyone. Visit their website. Support them. Get educated on the TRUTH about what influences the Lake level. Write to your local, state, and national legislators. Demand that the DROUGHT MANAGEMENT PLAN dated March of 2010 for the (then) Kerr Hydroelectric Project be implemented.

— Dan Benesch