5 Things You Should Know About Drought in the Gallatin Valley

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Last week, our Fall Tour took a look at local water planning, conservation, and restoration efforts. In case you missed it, here’s the top five things you should know about drought in the Gallatin.

1. Drought prevention starts with water planning

Drought may be caused by precipitation deficits including low snowpack and high temperatures or human-caused scarcity when demand for water exceeds the long-term supply. Water planning can help us prepare for the former and prevent the latter by identifying strategies to conserve water, improve efficiency, and match water use with supply. Water planning ensures that farms, communities, economies, and ecosystems are less damaged by low-water years and long-term droughts.

2. Forecasting precipitation changes

Current forecasts predict that the Gallatin will receive normal levels of precipitation in the next 50 years, but the timing of precipitation is expected to change. Snowpack levels are predicted to decline while spring flooding events increase. Decreasing snowpack will reduce groundwater recharge, so wells and streams may be drier in late summer. Wildfires are also predicted to increase, which may contribute to increased flooding, reduced groundwater recharge, and declining water quality.

3. New ag practices allow producers to do more with less

The tour visited Faith Dairy, a conservation easement with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. The owners have recently implemented several new projects that allow them to increase both efficiency and productivity. Center-pivot irrigation uses less electricity and gives the farmer more control over how much water is used. Replacing traditional ditches with gravity-fed pipelines reduces water loss to leakage, leaving more water in the creek. Nutrient reinjection—inserting cow manure into the soil—eliminates the need for fertilizers and helps the soil hold more water. Finally, crop rotation helps control weeds, prevent diseases, and allows the farmer to balance the crops’ needs with water availability.

4. City of Bozeman preparing for future water needs
Bozeman’s demand for water is expected to exceed supply in 2036 or when the population exceeds 62,000 people. But the city is being proactive in planning for this by creating a Drought Management Plan and focusing on water conservation. This includes rebate and incentive programs for high efficiency appliances and sprinklers and reducing residential and parkland lawn irrigation (the biggest water use in Bozeman). The city’s new water treatment plant will be able to meet the needs of the growing population. It is also is designed to filter runoff high in sediment and metals in the event of a wildfire in Sourdough Canyon or Hyalite, the two primary sources of municipal drinking water.
5. Protecting water by restoring ecosystems
Stream and wetland restoration helps improve water quality and increases the amount of water available to plants, wildlife, and people throughout the year. Wetlands store water during high flows and slowly return it to the stream during dry times, so this is a way to make up for the water storage that is lost as snowpack decreases. Floodplain restoration helps reduce flooding during big storm events (which are predicted to increase). The restoration project currently underway at Story Mill Community Park has doubled the size of the wetlands and restored two floodplains on the East Galltatin River on one on Bozeman Creek, improving wildlife habitat and protecting downstream communities.