Monitoring & Drought Resilience
“Enhancing Community Preparedness for Drought”
The National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) is a collaborative effort involving federal, state, and local government entities; non-government organizations (NGOs); and individual stakeholders. It aims to align and harness technical expertise and financial resources in order to reduce vulnerability to drought at the local level.
Missouri Headwaters Drought Resilience Demonstration Project
Montana’s Upper Missouri Basin has been chosen to lead a pilot Demonstration Project of grassroots water supply planning due to our status as a closed basin to new water right appropriations and our regions history of droughts. This project is two fold, it delivers government drought mitigation tools and resources to those who need them, while also building knowledge from local groups working directly with the landscape.
How do we prepare for drought?
There are two main types of planning related to drought. Response plans typically involve reacting to drought conditions. Where low water triggers certain restrictions to be put in place, like water use reduction, fishing restrictions. An example of an response plan is the Ruby Dewatering Plan (described below). Mitigation plans aim to work to prevent or alleviate the negative effects from drought, trying to get out ahead before it occurs. This involves better understanding streamflow and groundwater recharge rates, and is achieved by increasing floodplain connectivity and function throughout the watershed. This connectivity slows down the water through the watershed and allows more time for aquifer and water table recharge promoting healthy riparian areas.
Ruby River Dewatering Plan:
In 1985 and 1987 there was a low snowpack, not enough spring precipitation and higher than average temperature. Low levels of soil moisture required a large portion of water to be taken for irrigation and caused the dewatering of the Ruby River. This caused large fish kills and water shortages for irrigation. After these events the ranching, recreation, and conservation community came together to work on a plan to prevent the Ruby from being dewatered. This group, the Ruby Water Users Association created the bridge watch program to monitor the stream height under certain bridges and base their water consumption on that value. This has been our existing response plan in regards to drought.
Developing a Drought Plan for Ruby Valley
We want become more resilient to the effects of drought, with the Valley’s wildlife and residents depending on consistent water flows. We have begun incorporating drought mitigation actions into our Watershed Restoration Plan and conservation work. This involves:
- Increasing natural storage in and around streams
- Securing floodplains and floodplain connectivity
- Using conifer removal to reduce their water use and increase riparian health and drought resilience
- Increase the health of sagebrush grasslands
Lower Ruby Tributary Monitoring:
As part of an increased effort to plan for drought the Ruby River monitoring program has been monitoring all tributaries in Lower Ruby. Increased monitoring in the Lower Ruby will help to develop a more comprehensive water budget which in turn will help the Ruby Water Users meet minimum in stream flow targets. We will also be able to identify dewatered reaches and work to mitigate their effects on stream health.
Federal and State Monitoring Efforts:
Understanding the elements contributing to our water supply allows us to monitor these factors to understand the natural cycles associated with them, and become more aware of possible signs of future droughts. Primary factors monitored include Snow Water Equivalent (SWE), streamflow, reservoir storage and precipitation.
The National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in partner with the National Water and Climate Center has made an interactive mapping tool to allow users to explore these factors and various gauging stations across the nation. Below is an example of the type of information obtained from this tool along with the various filters and overlays available.
To access this resource at the NRCS website click here . The right hand side has a multitude of measurements to chose from based on stations in the region. You can also focus in on a specifc location by picking a state and county name. Clicking on the various map modes in the top right (Station Inventory, Basin Conditions, Station Conditions, and Station/Basin Conditions) allows you to compare current basin/station conditions with average past values. While not all elements have monitoring stations in the Ruby Valley it is still a useful tool to see our monitoring efforts on a larger scale.