KALISPELL - The low water levels are not only affecting businesses and homeowners on the shores of Flathead Lake but also farmers in Flathead County.
A group of farmers in Kalispell depend on water from the Flathead River to continuously fill a slough that’s used to irrigate crops. But due to low water levels in the river, the slough has reached a diversion point and can no longer intake water.
With six more weeks of irrigation, the farmers are worried they may lose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crops as the slough begins to run dry.
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“You know this is real-world stuff here,” said Kalispell farmer Charles Jaquette.
As the water runs low, the slough begins to dry.
“We pump out of a slough that is charged by Flathead River and right now the intake for this slough is below the level of the river, so we’re not getting any water and we probably got a few irrigation's left and we will be out of water here,” Kalispell farmer Steve Streich told MTN News.
Streich grows seed potatoes in the lower valley east of Kalispell along the Flathead River. His family has farmed in the valley since the mid-1970s, and he’s never seen the water drop this low.
“Never, in all of the years we’ve been out here, some of the guys been out here longer than me they were saying since the 1950’s they’ve never seen anything like it, we’ve got about six weeks left of irrigation to, so we need water.”
Streich says he will lose all of his crops when the slough runs dry, "Hundreds of thousands just on this one field right here, but there’s many fields in this area that are affected.”
Mark Passmore farms canola, rotating different crops year to year. He said the farmers had no warning that the river was going to drop this low.
“I heard about it last week when the lake was already down 6" and they said it was going to be down 20" in July, it’s already to a level that it isn’t going to work here,” said Passmore.
He’s worried sick he might lose everything, “It’s really scary, it’s going to be hard on the farm.”
Charles Jaquette — who farms small grains and leases acreage out to other farmers — says the slough provides roughly 5,000 gallons of water a minute to irrigate 3,000 acres of crops.
“And we can’t wait two weeks, four weeks, six weeks down the road, it will be all over by then,” said Jaquette.
He said the slough is running out of water fast, “We’re looking at a week and a half, two weeks maybe, we don’t know yet.”
The farmers are asking those in charge of the Hungry Horse Reservoir to release more water into the Flathead River before it’s too late.
“There is no other way than raising the river level, we don’t have a way to pump it into that slough, we don’t have any other options,” said Streich.
“Please give us some help, just as soon as possible, I mean we need some water,” added Jaquette.
Watch the full KPAX special report below.