Local Ranchers and Citizens Save Fish Stranded in Lolo Creek
In September of 2012, Lolo Creek was in dire straits and suffering from extreme low flows until local citizens took action to add water and rescue fish. The stream's lower reach had dried up due to dry conditions and irrigation withdrawals, leaving trout and other aquatic life stranded in small pools above Lolo Creek's confluence with the Bitterroot River. Thankfully, concerned community members worked quickly to save fish while local ranchers took action by reducing irrigation withdrawals from the stream.
The Coalition manages and monitors three water right leases on Lolo Creek that deliver 4.37 CFS on in-stream flow during the dry summer and fall months. Despite these leases, Lolo Creek still faces trouble in dry years, and we're working to develop additional stream-specific solutions in this area.
Missoulian 9/24/12: Citizens, irrigators band together to save fish in Lolo Creek
Montana Living 9/19/12: Ranchers help save trout in drought-stricken creek
KPAX 9/19/12: Community combines efforts to save Lolo fish
The Lolo Creek watershed drains 265,000 acres and is a major tributary to the Bitterroot River.
- Fisheries: Historically, Lolo Creek hosted a prolific fishery, and today still hosts Westslope Cutthroat, Bull trout, and other native and non-native fish, although their numbers are diminished.
- Impacts: Lolo Creek's upper watershed consists of a patchwork of Forest Service lands and lands formerly owned by Plum Creek, which have been acquired in the Legacy Lands project and are being converted to Forest Service ownership. Construction of HWY 12 has also affected the creek by removing vegetation, altering the stream course (through straightening and armoring) and by introducing runoff and materials from the road surface. The lower section of the Lolo Creek watershed has been affected by water diversions and other agriculture-related impacts.
- Status: As a consequence of water diversions (and many years of drought) lower Lolo Creek is recognized by the MT Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as dewatered and has gone completely dry multiple times in recent history. Owing to recent conversion of agricultural lands to residences, and the watershed's proximity to Missoula, new impacts associated with groundwater withdrawal and septic drain fields are becoming an additional stress on the Creek.
- The Coalition protects 2.37 cubic feet per second of water in Lolo Creek. We own this water right on Lolo Creek, which is dedicated to instream flow for 10 years (2006-2016).
- Montana Water Trust, now the Clark Fork Coalition, has collaborated with the Lolo Watershed Group to establish a streamflow monitoring network on Lolo Creek (see map). In 2008, three automated monitoring instruments were installed that record water height and temperature every ½ hour. These data will be used to monitor streamflow on lower Lolo Creek and guide future water use and drought management practices.
- Pending Projects: We are in the process of changing two additional water rights to instream flow for an additional 2 cfs for 10 years. If approved, the total amount of water dedicated to instream flow will be 4.37 cfs.
Lolo Creek Streamflow Monitoring Network
(corresponding to numbered map locations)
1 - Our Water Right at Fort Fizzle: The Coalition has 2.37 CFS of instream flow dedicated here, 6 miles from the stream's mouth. This station is located above most of the large, lower valley diversions and represents how much water is entering the lower Lolo Creek system.
2 - Middle Lolo Creek Monitoring Site: Located 2.5 miles from the creek's mouth, this station is positioned above the most severely dewatered stream reach.
3 - Lower Lolo Creek Monitoring Site: 1.3 miles from the mouth of the creek, this is the lower-most station in the flow monitoring network and it falls within the stretch that is most affected by dewatering. This station provides valuable information on the temperature and volume of water that makes it to the Bitterroot River from Lolo Creek.