NBC Montana: Tester, Daines raise concerns over Flathead Lake levels

by Jacob Owens

Montana’s U.S. senators are expressing concern over Flathead Lake levels following a dry winter, with one senator sending a letter to the technical management team overseeing the Hungry Horse Project north of the lake.

Sen. Jon Tester is asking the team to consider drought conditions when determining how much water the dam above Flathead Lake will let through.

“A lesson learned from 2023 is action must be taken early to try to mitigate the worst case scenarios when summer months arrive,” Tester wrote. “As such, I encourage the TMT to take action now on the summer draft limits to put the region in the best possible position to manage the drought.”

The technical management team, which includes states, agencies and other groups, is involved with the operation of dams and reservoirs like the Hungry Horse Reservoir north of Flathead Lake

Sen. Steve Daines’ office provided NBC Montana with the following statement on the situation in the Flathead:

“Senator Daines knows this is a major concern for Montanans in the Flathead, especially following a dry winter. Since last summer, he has been working with local stakeholders and federal agencies to find the best outcome for all who depend on this water and will continue to look for a path forward.”

NBC Montana spoke with Robert McDonald, the communications director of Energy Keepers, Inc., after Tester’s statement came out.

“The short-term, long-term forecasts are looking a little dry, and taking early action, I think is a wise move,” McDonald said. “We’re pleased to see it.”

Energy Keepers, Inc. is separate from the Hungry Horse Project. The incorporation manages the Seli’s Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam and the top 10 feet of Flathead Lake.

The company launched a new tool that allows them to get an updated forecast of lake levels each week.

Lake levels were around 2,887 feet Monday afternoon. The chart, which is updated each Monday, gives the best- and worst-case scenarios for future lake levels.

The Army Corps of Engineers approved a variance to keep the lake a bit higher than usual earlier this spring.

Energy Keepers, Inc. wanted to provide the new forecasts this year due to the interest in Flathead Lake levels, McDonald said, but no one knows what type of year it’ll be for sure.

“We do the best we can with the instruments and the information available,” McDonald said. “And we’ve got state-of-the-art approaches, forecasting and multiple techniques and as much information as we can accrue and make the best decision with the best information that we can have. But again, a forecast is a forecast.”

NBC Montana reached out to the technical management team about Tester’s letter.

“We’ve only just received the letter, and we need time to better understand its implications,” the Bureau of Reclamation, which works with the team, said.