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Landowners learn about water measurement, management in Helena class

Posted at 6:33 PM, Oct 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-02 21:58:56-04

HELENA — People from around the Helena area got a lesson Wednesday in how water resources are measured.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation held a water measurement training class, in partnership with the Lewis and Clark Conservation District and Prickly Pear Land Trust.

“The idea was to just get folks out – landowners, practitioners, anyone who might be a little bit more interested in basic water rights – then being able to get out here and practice and see how we measure water and why,” said Ann Schwend, a water resource planner with DNRC.

In the morning, participants were in the classroom to get a background on water rights and how water is managed in the state. In the afternoon, they went into the field. At a Prickly Pear Land Trust property along Sevenmile Creek, presenters showed them various instruments for measuring waterflow in streams or diversion ditches. They then looked at a U.S. Geological Survey stream gage in Tenmile Creek.

Schwend said precise measurements are important when dealing with water rights. Those rights allow owners to divert and use very specific amounts of water.

“If you take a look at streamflow, it’s tough to be able to just eyeball it and say, ‘That’s how much water there is,’” Schwend said. “For irrigators to be most efficient with their water use, it’s important that they know how much they’re diverting and where that’s going.”

Several of the participants were local landowners, who each use water from Sevenmile Creek. Schwend said one of the biggest benefits of the class was getting those owners thinking about ways they can work together.

“Bringing them together today, I think was great, because they were all having conversations,” she said. “I think they all had shared learning that’s going to really help them understand how to manage this water for more than just a single property, but as a whole resource along Sevenmile Creek.”

Prickly Pear Land Trust itself is now a rightsholder. Travis Vincent, a project associate for PPLT, said they acquired senior water rights when they purchased their 350-acre property around Sevenmile. That has allowed them to begin major stream restoration work.

Vincent said they saw this class as an opportunity to learn from the experts on water management – and to get together with their neighboring landowners.

“By working, getting everybody on the same page, we can really plan more effectively, and we can actually use less water and get more out of it and be more efficient with that,” he said.

Schwend said this was the first time DNRC has held this type of class in Helena – aimed at landowners and the public rather than specialized water commissioners. She said, if there is enough interest, they will look at holding another session in the future.

If you have any questions about water measurement or management, you can contact Schwend at