Local Drought Current Status
The Upper Yellowstone Watershed supports vibrant agriculture and recreation/tourism economies that rely on high quality natural resources including open space and clean, available water. Yet, increasing average air temperatures, drought, earlier runoff, and decreasing snowpack combined with population growth and often conflicting water demands presents water supply challenges now and into the future. The Upper Yellowstone Watershed Group (UYWG) has taken a leadership role in working collaboratively within the watershed to address these challenges and is actively planning for drought with a multi-sector drought focus group.
In 2018, the UYWG initiated a drought planning process that is fundamentally collaborative and community-based by engaging a broad and diverse spectrum of stakeholders within the watershed. This effort was focused on examining the impacts of drought and low river flows, identifying watershed vulnerabilities to drought, and generating a suite of adaptation strategies to mitigate impacts from future low flow events.
Successful drought plans rely heavily on community investment in the development process. Through this diverse stakeholder planning framework, it is our goal that local citizens in the Upper Yellowstone will be better poised to understand water related challenges, identify potential water-related vulnerabilities, and impacts in our watershed, and be able to prioritize and invest in both response and long-term drought mitigation strategies. Phase 1 of this drought planning process has been focused on engaging the community, collecting all pertinent data on drought indicators in our watershed, and identifying drought impacts and vulnerabilities. We have brought together a diverse and representative group of stakeholders to act as the Drought Focus Group, which meets regularly to collaboratively implement the planning stages.
We are now in Phase 2 of the drought planning process, which includes delving into the identified drought impacts and vulnerabilities, identifying and prioritizing long-term mitigation actions, and developing methods and tools for increasing monitoring efforts throughout the watershed and communicating more broadly to the community. The UYWG has helped fund and supported various monitoring efforts in the watershed, including updating canal gaging equipment, adding real time River Conditions Tools on the webpage, supported the effort of installing two Mesonet stations in the watershed (monitoring real time soil moisture and climatic data), as well as supported a partnership with Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to begin developing a water balance model for the watershed. In addition, the Drought Focus Group is working on developing strategies about how to communicate more readily and frequently about drought conditions, where and when they occur, so that the local watershed community can be more informed and prepared.
Critical partners in this effort include local landowners (including ranchers, irrigators, and small parcel owners), local business owners, outfitters, members of regional conservation groups and non-profit organizations, agencies such as Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, US Geological Survey, US Forest Service, and Montana State University and Extension Service, Montana Watershed Coordination Council and Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.