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Gov. Gianforte formally requests action over low Flathead Lake levels

Flathead Lake
Posted at 3:57 PM, Jul 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-14 11:14:37-04

HELENA – Gov. Greg Gianforte is formally requesting the Columbia River Technical Management Team (TMT) address low water levels in Flathead Lake.

The governor submitted a System Operational Request (SOR) on Thursday. He noted that TMT members and non-TMT members may provide recommendations to the TMT in the form of an SOR.

TMT members include the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Therefore, as a non-TMT member, I submit this letter as my SOR for the TMT to use all available data and criteria to consider releases from the Hungry Horse into Flathead Lake in an amount practical and compliant with state and federal law and regulations,” Gov. Gianforte wrote to the TMT. “Given time remains of the essence, I urge you to act without delay.”

The governor stated in a news release that a “lack of responsiveness” from federal agencies has “unnecessarily delayed action to address low water levels in Flathead Lake.”

“Regarding the drought conditions in the Flathead Valley and low water levels in Flathead Lake, I asked officials with the U.S. Department of the Interior on July 6 to provide specific data and information to guide a potential request for a release from the Hungry Horse Project (Hungry Horse). I have yet to receive a formal response, only partial, incomplete information,” Gov. Gianforte wrote.

He continued, “On July 11, I urged the Columbia River Technical Management Team (TMT) to act, writing ‘any and all solutions must be fully discussed at the upcoming meeting of the Technical Management Team,’ and made three specific requests to the TMT. No meaningful action was taken at yesterday’s TMT meeting.”

The governor’s SOR, which may be viewed here, is the first SOR submitted in response to drought conditions in the Flathead Valley.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-MT) issued the following statements of support for Gov. Gianforte’s formal request.

“I commend Governor Gianforte’s work to address the situation at Flathead Lake and hope to see immediate action from the TMT. Protecting our Montana way of life will always be my top priority and I encourage the Biden administration to join us in this effort. Congressman Zinke and I will continue to push for relief to the communities around Flathead Lake as well as farmers in the Flathead Basin." - U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT)
“Fill the lake. I support the state’s recommendation to the TMT and Bureau of Reclamation to stabilize Flathead Lake. If the feds had taken action more than three weeks ago when lake levels were 8 inches below full pool and when Senator Daines and I first raised this issue to the Commissioner and Regional Director of Reclamation we would be in a much better situation. Unfortunately, weak leadership and robust red tape led to worsening conditions that are having dire consequences on ag and the tourism economy." - U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT)

Watch the full KPAX Special Report below.

KPAX Special Report: The impact of Flathead Lake's low water levels