Will Montana’s Lakes Dry Up This Summer? Indicators Say “Yes”
It's no secret that Montana is dry. A graph from Drought.gov shows that most of the state has been experiencing some level of drought conditions for the majority of the past 21 years. Early indicators are showing that this summer things may get quite a bit worse.
Over half of the state is experiencing "extreme drought."
84.9% of the Treasure State is currently in "severe drought" and 51.9% is dealing with "extreme drought", affecting over 724,000 Montanans according to the latest NOAA/USDA data. There is only one level worse than "extreme drought" and that is "exceptional drought"... thankfully, we are not there. Yet.
State water experts are expressing concern.
Arin Peters, Senior Service Hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Montana shared a Tweet yesterday (3/21) with some concerning data regarding the current water levels at two popular lakes in Montana; Canyon Ferry Reservoir at Townsend and Clark Canyon Reservoir near Dillon. Both bodies of water are substantially lower in March 2022 than they were in March 2021. Like, five to eight feet lower.
Chatting with Peters today, I was able to put that into perspective. Normally, Canyon Ferry holds about 1.46 million acre-feet of water at the end of February. This year it's at 1.26 million acre-feet. The 200,000 acre-feet difference is a shortage of 65,170,200,000 gallons of water! 65 BILLION. Peters said that Fort Peck Reservoir is currently 11 feet lower now than it was last year at the same time.
March snowpack is low across much of the state.
Most of the mountains in southwest Montana that ultimately feed the Missouri river are running 15 - 20% below the average for snowpack at this time. The Upper Yellowstone and Powder River basins are short similar levels.
We need an extremely wet April and May.
In his Tweet, Peters wrote,
The near-term @NWSCPC outlooks aren't promising for even holding on to what we do have with above average temperatures forecast through the end of the month. With much of the state still in D3 (extreme) drought, I'm becoming increasingly concerned about what this summer is going to look like for our streams and rivers, agricultural impacts, as well as fire season.