In 2011, the Clark Fork Coalition purchased a water right on Racetrack Creek from the Clines of R Bar N Ranch. As new owners of the water right, the Coalition will be able to improve flows in Racetrack Creek by releasing water stored in Racetrack Lake, a reservoir at the headwaters of the creek, during the dry summer months. This project will help permanently restore flows to a dewatered tributary stream in the Upper Clark Fork watershed.
Watch this video showcasing streamflow restoration on Racetrack Creek:
Racetrack Creek supplies important spawning and rearing habitat for native trout. However, summer irrigation withdrawal from Racetrack annually dries up a large portion of the creek, impeding fish movement and diminishing the stream’s overall ecological health. In 2011, the Clines chose to sell one of their irrigation water rights to the Coalition because they recently reduced the water demand on their ranch by installing a more efficient center pivot irrigation system. Now, the Coalition is buying the water that the Clines have saved through their efficiency practices—an annual volume of 433 acre-feet. This water is stored in Racetrack Lake, a reservoir at the uppermost reaches of the drainage.
The Coalition and the Clines closed on the first portion of the deal for 255 acre-feet—or 59% of the total water—on August 22, 2011, with funding from the Bonneville Power Administration through its Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program. In late August 2011, the Montana Dept. of Justice’s Natural Resources Damages Program (NRDP) Trustee Restoration Council unanimously voted to pay the Clines’ for the remaining 41% of the water.
Through ownership of this storage water, the Coalition will be able to hold and release water when it’s most needed in the stream, helping to ensure that Racetrack Creek flows year-round. Plus, by re-watering Racetrack Creek all the way through to its confluence with the Clark Fork River, this project will provide between 4 to 8 additional cubic feet per second (cfs) of flow to the Clark Fork. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has set a total flow target of 40 cfs for the Upper Clark Fork River during summer months, and this project will be a positive step toward reaching that mark.
This is the first deal of this kind on Racetrack Creek, and also breaks new ground for conservation-related water transactions in the state. Racetrack Creek is the largest tributary flowing into the Upper Clark Fork River on the west side of the Deer Lodge Valley. It flows out of the Flint Creek Range and is listed as a top-tier priority for restoration by both FWP and the NRDP, as it supplies important spawning and rearing habitat for native trout. In addition to this water transaction with the Clines, the Coalition is also partnering with several other Racetrack Creek irrigators to conduct feasibility studies for a proposed gravity-fed pressurized pipeline system. Switching irrigators to a pressurized pipeline may restore a significant amount of flow to Racetrack Creek and the upper river, and also save the ranchers money in reduced energy costs.
The Coalition is partnering with private landowners throughout the Upper Clark Fork and other watersheds on dozens of stream restoration projects that balance agricultural needs with the need for healthy streams. Visit our Healing Streams page for more information about stream restoration efforts in the Upper Clark Fork.
Clark Fork Coalition - PO Box 7593 - Missoula, MT 59807 - 406.542.0539 - email@example.com