GREAT FALLS – About 150 people from eastern Montana were in Great Falls on Thursday for a federal court hearing about the Lower Yellowstone River intake dam. Since 1909 the project has provided water for more than 58,000 acres of farmland.
An animal-rights advocacy group called the Defenders Of Wildlife, who are the plaintiffs, are fighting to save the wild pallid sturgeon, which has the Lower Yellowstone dam’s future in question.
During the hearing, the plaintiffs said that the project does not have adequate recovery specifications.
They also stated that there is nothing to support the claim that the pallid sturgeon population will improve after the bypass is built.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states that the plaintiffs are misleading the court.
The defendants pointed out that there are numerous pages where recovery is talked about in the biological opinion.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks concluded that the bypass channel will help increase reproduction more than the natural channel that is there now.
The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs have not brought any new evidence since this case was heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Judge Brian Morris has not yet ruled on the case.
Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN News
(DECEMBER 20, 2017) Irrigators and water users along the Lower Yellowstone River are fighting to have a federal injunction that’s halting construction of a fish bypass to an intake diversion dam outside of Glendive lifted.
According to Jim Brower, the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project manager, since 1909, the dam has reliably provided water to over 58,000 acres of farmland.
But controversy surrounding the Defender of Wildlife’s efforts to save the wild pallid sturgeon has the Lower Yellowstone Diversion Dam’s future in question.
“The irony is that the judge doesn’t have the power to remove the dam because it’s law from the Congress and the Senate,” Brower said. “So they’re stopping construction of the only fish passage that has been proven to be good for both the environment and the farmer and approved by two separate environmental studies to the highest standards over concerns that theoretically, it might not be good enough.”
The economic impact of irrigation on eastern Montana is valued at over $54 million and without water, the agriculture industry could be devastated.
“We have pictures taken by the surveyors in 1905 and 1907 that show this entire valley as just being nothing but high plains, arid desert with sand, and gravel bars with maybe a single tree every couple of hundred acres that couldn’t support one cow and calf pair,” Brower said. He added that the area has since moved to being the highest density population of large mammal wildlife in eastern Montana or western North Dakota.
The dam is also very important to non-farmers and ranchers. “Right now, we have five communities whose drinking wells who have been proven by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology are totally dependent on the shallow water recharge provided by the main canal,” Brower said.
Ultimately, the decision to put in a fish bypass for the pallid sturgeon will be made about 1,150 miles from the area in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Farmers and ranchers are fearful that if the injunction isn’t lifted, it will set a dangerous precedent against irrigation and water use, which would be devastating in a state whose largest economy is agriculture.