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Drought leads power company to store more water behind dam

April 4, 2022 GMT

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — NorthWestern Energy is reducing the amount of water it releases from Hebgen Dam into the Madison River in southwestern Montana for nearly three weeks, starting Monday, in order to store additional water for use this summer.

The utility must balance the use of water to allow for recreation at Hebgen Reservoir, cool water for fish in the river along with irrigation and electricity generation at hydroelectric dams farther downstream — all while a drought continues.

“Saving this water to supplement flows during the heat of the summer will help to reduce stress on fish from elevated water temperatures,” said Andy Welch, NorthWestern Energy manager of Hydro License Compliance.

NorthWestern plans to reduce the flows to as low as 550 cubic feet per second at the Kirby U.S. Geological Survey gage near the community of Cameron. Under its federal license, flows at Kirby are supposed to be maintained at no less than 600 cfs, The Billings Gazette reports.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, state and federal wildlife and other regulatory agencies worked together on the management plan.

In January, Hebgen Lake business owners filed a protest with FERC saying NorthWestern Energy was irresponsible in managing water levels last summer, causing them to lose business.