The Greater Gallatin Watershed Council is a nonprofit organization that works with local volunteers, students, and other organizations to bring water quality monitoring, stream restoration, and watershed education to the Gallatin Valley with the goal of improving water quality for all. They held a canal tour last month and offered this summary in their most recent newsletter of the Top Five Things you should know about Irrigation in the Gallatin Valley.
1. Extent: In 1864, the first settlers in the Gallatin Valley began creating the irrigation system. Today, over 2,000 miles of ditches and canals exist, spreading significant amounts of water from the West Gallatin River across the entire valley floor.
2. Effects: Ditches and canals redistribute water from the West Gallatin River to the East Gallatin and lower Hyalite Creek, recharge groundwater through seepage, and benefit rural well users by raising the water table. Middle Creek Ditch even irrigates the MSU campus!
3. Flood Protection: The irrigation system offers a relief valve of an estimated 1,260 cfs to reduce the effect of spring floods on the West Gallatin. Canal systems also provide emergency drawdown to prevent Hyalite Reservoir from overflowing.
4. Agricultural Bounty: The Churchill-Amsterdam area grows wheat, malting barley, feed corn, alfalfa hay, and seed potatoes. It is also known for dairy production, beef feedlots, cow/calf operations, and registered breeding stock. Irrigation from Highline, Lowline, Kughen, Valley, Moreland, and Warm Springs ditches make this possible.
5. In-Stream Flow: In dry years, a court-appointed Water Commissioner distributes irrigation water on the West Gallatin River based on priority dates, shifting water from upstream users to downstream users in order to maintain in-stream flows.
More about the GGWC at http://www.greatergallatin.org