Bitter Root Water Forum

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist explains how a fish screen works to people attending this year's Bitter Root Water Forum irrigation tour.

Whether it’s wheel lines, hand lines, or a pivot system, irrigation is something that you can see happening daily in the Bitterroot. But if it’s not your day to day life you might have some questions about it.

That’s what the Bitter Root Water Forum was hoping to shed light on during their Irrigation in the Bitterroot tour on Wednesday.

About 20 community members, some who have been in the valley for years and others who are newcomers, boarded a bus in Hamilton Wednesday afternoon and headed up to Lake Como for their first stop. There Al Pernichele, Bitterroot Water Commissioner, gave a history of how water has been managed in the Bitterroot and discussed how water is dispersed throughout the valley. John Crowley, manager of the Bitter Root Irrigation District (BRID), gave participants an exclusive look into the inner workings of the Lake Como and discussed BRID’s role in water storage and distribution with “The Big Ditch.”

The next stop featured the Ward Ditch diversion and fish screen. Rhonda King and Tim Meuchel of Daly Ditches Irrigation District discussed their system featuring nine main ditches that serve nearly 2,000 water users. Fish biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Chris Clancy, also spoke here about fish screens and how they are used to reduce the number of fish caught up in the ditch systems.

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The final stop was at Homestead Organics Farms, where owners Laura Garber and Henry Wuensche discussed how the water is used on the land and for their final products, the crops. Tour participants were treated to a sample of peppers and hemp tea to bring the day full circle from the water storage, distribution and use, to the result of locally grown food and crops.

The Bitter Root Water Forum is a local nonprofit that works to bring the community together to protect, enhance and restore the Bitterroot watershed that we all rely on. Along with educational tours like this they also provide youth education and on the ground restoration to improve water quality in the valley.

“Education is a very important part of our mission,” says Water Forum Executive Director, Heather Barber. “Giving youth and adults a chance to learn more about our water resources is at the core of what we do. Providing an opportunity to share how important irrigation and agriculture is to the Valley helps connect people to this place”.