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TU's goal is to secure healthy stream flows on a recently restored stream in the Blackfoot River sub-basin. Braziel Creek drains a small watershed west of Nevada Creek. About four miles in length, Braziel Creek supports a nearly pure population of Westslope Cutthroat Trout. The lower quarter mile of the creek has suffered from overgrazing, dewatering, and channelization. Thus, with most of TU’s restoration projects, it is a multi-faceted restoration effort. The rancher on this reach of the creek agreed to both grazing restrictions and channel restoration. Those went into place in 2010. In late 2012, the rancher agreed to work with TU for one irrigation season (2013) to maintain a base flow of 0.5 cfs—the rancher’s water rights can, and have, completely dewatered the stream in the past. The agreement, which does not involve the conveyance of water rights, is known as a split-season diversion-reduction agreement. In essence, the irrigator can irrigate as usual, until the creek’s flow reaches our minimum desired flow—0.5 cfs in this case—at which time he has to reduce his diversion to maintain that minimum flow.
The tactic here is designed to get the irrigator comfortable with the idea of managing his irrigation diversions to help the fishery. By entering into a single-season agreement, he can see how it works before he makes a commitment to a long-term lease (which is our ultimate goal). It also gives TU a chance to fine-tune our flow target and our approach to monitoring for that target.
The victories here are: (1) we will keep a base flow in Braziel Creek this summer, and (2) we have a landowner who has taken the next step in cooperation on the restoration of our creek. TU is hoping for a third victory—a long-term lease—but we won’t know if we have scored that until the end of the irrigation season.
Stan Bradshaw, project manager, Montana Water Project
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