Water takes center stage at summit

By TIM BOULWARE

Water is in high demand, and to talk about the issues and complexities of this highly valued resource, the Montana Water Summit was held last week in Helena.

The subtitle for the summit was: Water In a Changing West. Ann Schwend, Water Resource Planner with the Montana Department of Natural Resources knows the demands for water are only increasing.

“What we are trying to do is create a statewide platform where we could have a conversation and bring a lot of diverse people together and experts and say, how do we plan for what our future is going to look like,” Schwend said.

There is concern that changing weather elements could further reduce the availability for water in
future years.

“We’re often seeing opportunities or times when we may have rain on snow events, so we need to be thinking about longer, drier, hotter summers and if that snowpack if that comes out and we’re not prepared and it floods or doesn’t flood, than it’s gone, what happens in late September when we don’t have water anymore and it’s pretty hot and dry,” Schwend said.

The hope is with a large room filled with people worried about keeping water readily accessible that
discussing these issues will be a good first step to finding solutions.

“I think to me one of the things that is most promising is bringing all of us together,” Schwend said.
“That we’re having this conversation and lots of people are thinking about it and hearing about it at the same time and that we’re really setting this up and saying let’s plan ahead.”

John Tubbs is the Director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. He sizes up where we are right now with water.

“We just went through an exceptional drought cycle and now we have an exceptional snowpack,” Tubbs said. “I will remind people we had an exceptional snowpack in the prior winter and that meant that drought was on the land, but it wasn’t necessarily drought on our rivers. Right now it looks like we can at least sustain that river flow given our snowpack.”

And with a big state comes varied interest.

“Growing population centers that you saw in our presentation have very different needs now and into the future than the more rural areas. There’s also been this divide between the mountainous regions of Montana and the great plains of North and Eastern Montana.

Tubbs says pulse crops in the northeastern part of the state were hit hard by last summer’s drought.

This issue has brought about concern from our two US Senators to pour in an additional $80 million a year for rural water projects in the state.

The overall goal of the summit was to plan ahead for not this year, but potentially 20 years in the future for water.