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Commissioners Voice Concerns Over Corps’ Plans

Area officials have expressed disappointment with the news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that releases from Fort Peck Dam could be conducted in April and July.

The Corps of Engineers feels the increased water releases would benefit the endangered pallid sturgeon.

Roosevelt County commissioners are concerned about the potential financial impact for area growers.

“It could wreck havoc on all their pump sites,” Commissioner Gordon Oelkers said. “It will ruin all the pump sites along the river.”

Oelkers noted many agriculture organizations have expressed their disapproval of the plan during the past few years.

“They’re forgetting about all the trouble it will cause the irrigators,” Commissioner Gary Macdonald said of the Corps of Engineers.

Macdonald noted that pallid sturgeon have been able to survive in the water since the 1940s. “I don’t know why they are concerned now.”

In 2020, then Roosevelt County commissioners wrote a letter regarding Fort Peck test flows to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That letter contained that the commissioners, “do not feel as though the interests of downstream water users and the economy of our state have been given proper consideration.”

During 2021, the commissioners sent another letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that included, “A rush to make 2022 the first year of test releases is ill-timed both for irrigation and the pallid sturgeon. A drought year is a particularly bad year not to have reliable irrigation. For the sturgeon, the released water needs to be warmer than what is provided from the bottom of the reservoir. The release should be from the spillway using shallower and warmer water. This easily might not be available in the looming drought conditions.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has come out against the plan at that time. Gianforte noted the plan could have negative impacts for farms and irrigation systems downstream of the Fort Peck Dam. In his letter, Gianforte said river levels could flood water users in late spring and limit water resources during the summer months. The Corps’ plan includes that beginning on April 16, flows would be increased by 1,700 cubic feet per second each day until the peak flow at the Wolf Point gauge reached 16,000 cfs. The process will only take place when the Fort Peck Reservoir’s elevation is at 2,227 feet or more. The amount of flows would increase by 1,700 cubic feet per second each day until the peak flow hits 16,000 cubic feet per second in Wolf Point.

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