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Home Restore Working With Water: Streamflow Restoration

Streamflow Restoration: Before and After

Working with Water: Tools for Landowners

The Clark Fork Coalition partners with private landowners, irrigation districts, and water user groups to support clean water, healthy fisheries, and working lands. We participate in water management projects that support agriculture, and benefit the rivers and streams we all depend on for irrigation, recreation, drinking water, and fish and wildlife.

Services the Coalition can offer:

Meet with landowners to learn more about your water management goals and help evaluate if any of our programs might be right for you.

Provide technical assistance and coordinate design studies of potential projects.

Write grant applications and secure cost share from state, federal, and private programs.

Conduct water right reviews and file change applications with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Success Stories:

Racetrack Creek: As new owners of a water right, the Coalition is improving flows in Racetrack Creek, a key tributary in the Upper Clark Fork, by releasing water stored in Racetrack Lake, a reservoir at the headwaters of the creek, during the dry summer months. View photos and video at Racetrack Creek.

Tin Cup Creek: A new partnership increases storage at Tin Cup Lake, keeps a trout stronghold wet, and gets irrigators the water their operations need. This win-win project is a one-of-a-kind collaborative effort that shows how a little cooperation can go a long way to make sure there’s enough water for farmers and fish alike.  View photos and video from Tin Cup Creek

O'Brien Creek: The Coalition leases the senior water right on O'Brien Creek, which flows into the Bitterroot River just southwest of downtown Missoula. Each summer, we place up-to-date stream flow information on our website to help water users stay up-to-speed on water use, and get to know a backyard creek a little bit better.  View photos and flow information from O'Brien Creek

Working with Water: Streamflow Restoration Print E-mail

A stream is hardly a stream without water.  Our projects provide much-needed water in chronically or periodically dewatered streams, creating connectivity and consistent flows between tributaries and rivers-- we aim to keep fish wet and watersheds whole.

As a water-right holder, what are my options?

We believe that clean, healthy streams can thrive alongside irrigated agriculture in our valleys.  There are many incentives and options available to landowners for managing water, which can improve streamflows and a landowner's bottom line:

>> Irrigation efficiency improvements: Ditch lining, piping, or switching from flood irrigation to center-pivots can reduce the amount of water needed to meet irrigation demands.  The saved water can be leased or sold to an instream use to help pay for costs associated with efficiency upgrades.

>> Water leasing: Leasing is the temporary transfer of a water right to instream flows and is recognized as a beneficial use of a water right in Montana.  All or part of a water right can be leased.  Landowners are compensated based on number of acres leased, the period of time, and fishery benefit.

>> Point of diversion and source changes: Relocating a headgate closer to irrigated acres, switching water sources from a tributary stream to a mainstem river, and adding a supplemental water source may provide benefits to streams.

>> Water purchases: The purchase of water allows for the permanent management of a water right for instream use.  These purchases occur when landowners are changing the traditional use of a piece of irrigated ground and no longer need to irrigate that particular area.

What can CFC's tools do for you?

>> Provide financial incentives for returning water to the river, and improve the viability of your agricultural operations.

>> Reduce labor and maintenance costs of managing an aging irrigation system.

>> Pressurize water systems and reduce or eliminate the need for pumps.

>> Eliminate liabilities and safety hazards associated with open ditch systems.

>> Improve water reliability, management, and measurement.

Questions? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Where_We_Work_Map_webWhere we work:

Upper Clark Fork

Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch
Racetrack Creek


O'Brien Creek
Lolo Creek
Sweeney Creek
Threemile Creek
Skalkaho Creek
Tin Cup Creek


Stonewall Creek/Keep Cool Creeks

Middle Clark Fork:

Ninemile Creek
Rattlesnake Creek

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I jeopardize my water right by leasing?

No.  You retain ownership of your water right and lease the use to another entity.  Leasing water for in-stream purposes is considered a beneficial use in Montana, and is a way to prevent abandonment of your water right.

How much do I get paid for my water?

We assess the value of a water right based on a number of factors, including: the number of irrigated acres, crop production value of those acres, duration of the lease, reliability of the water right, and fishery need.  We also accept donations of water.

How is the amount of conserved water calculated?

We work closely with landowners to measure the seepage losses in their irrigation system prior to implementing conservation measures. We work with all parties to ensure a fair value for seepage amount is met, and that there is adequate water to maintain the productivity of the irrigated acres.

Can I lease or sell a portion of my water right?

Yes. You may lease all or part of your water right to instream use. You are also allowed to do a split-season lease, meaning your water is used for irrigation for part of the season and then leased for the remainder.

When I elect to leave water in-stream, am I taking water away from existing users?

No. Instream water rights hold the same priority as the original water right. They must yield to senior users, but can have priority over junior users.

Where does the Coalition get the money for these projects?

We receive the majority of project funding from state, federal, and private grant programs and foundations. Our primary grant source for water projects is the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program, which is funded through the Bonneville Power Adminstration.

Check out our new 'Working with Water' video!

Working with Water produced by Firewater Film Company