Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why Yellowstone runs low on water


The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department closed the Yellowstone River to all water-borne recreation in response to a growing epidemic that has killed thousands of fish. The culprit is proliferative kidney disease, which can cause up to 100 percent mortality.

The disease is exacerbated by low water flows and high temperatures.

...Neither FWP nor the governor are willing to name the major factor creating low flows or “do everything” to stop the disease. There is a sacred cow they are afraid to name. In naming low flows and high temperatures, they are ignoring the ultimate cause of low water and high temperatures — which throughout Montana and the rest of the West is livestock production.

Livestock trample the riparian areas along streams which are the sponges that hold and release water, especially late season flows. Throughout the West, especially on public lands, cattle grazing is the No. 1 cause of riparian damage.

All those green hay fields one sees along the Yellowstone River? Well, that’s the river spread over those fields. Throughout the West, those green patches of exotic water-thirsty grasses are only possible by degrading our rivers through water withdrawals.

Irrigation causes stream dewatering and it's the reason many stream segments fail to meet state water quality standards.

When fish are crowded together, it increases competition for food and resting habitat and thus is a factor in stress. Low flows also mean any pools of water heat faster contributing to higher temperatures. Furthermore, even if the water diverted from a stream or river is subsequently returned to the stream, it is typically much warmer, which is another factor in high temperatures.

But here’s the catch. The water in Montana rivers, as well as the rest of the West, does not belong to ranchers. It is owned by the citizens of the state. Any use, including the removal of water, is subject to citizen approval. A water “right” is really a water privilege. We, the people of Montana, allow ranchers to use our water for their private profit. But this is subject to our approval.

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