Managing water: Farmers, scientists work together to learn more about Bozeman area canal

Managing water: Farmers, scientists work together to learn more about Bozeman area canal

News Type: State Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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A group of irrigators will work with water scientists to learn more about how water moves through a canal that cuts through Bozeman and delivers their water.

The Farmers Canal Company is working with the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology on a monitoring project along Farmers Canal, which begins near Gallatin Gateway and flows northeast through farmland before being piped north through Bozeman.

The study will look at streamflow and groundwater data to quantify the amount of canal water that leaks into the ground, which reduces streamflows and creates some challenges for water managers. Studying those data will also help identify where and when that seepage happens, which could help water managers make decisions about potential water conservation efforts.

John Metesh, of the Bureau of Mines and Geology, said the study will be unique in that it will provide irrigators with hard data about how much canal water is soaking into the aquifer.

“They know their canal, they know their system well,” he said. “They can’t put numbers to it.”

Canals deliver water to irrigators all over Montana. Many are managed by the irrigators themselves and many lack instruments to track flows, meaning decisions about water use often rely on a water manager’s expertise rather than hard data. The study is meant to provide some of that data for Farmers Canal.

That canal has been delivering water to irrigators for more than a century. After meandering through farmland south of Bozeman, it flows through a pipe along College Street and then north along 19th Avenue. It ends north of town.

Because it runs through Bozeman, the canal now serves more uses than its name would suggest, said Krista Lee Evans, a consultant working with the canal company.

“A number of our irrigators aren’t traditional agricultural irrigators,” she said. “We’re irrigating subdivisions.”

Development has created more demands for water and challenges for that canal, including the need to ensure flows remain robust enough to carry water to irrigators at the end of the line. Seepage plays a role in that too, which is why irrigators are interested in doing the study.

 “It’s going to be very helpful,” Evans said. “It will help the irrigators manage their water better.”

The company won a $100,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation for the project, which is matched by $100,000 from the Bureau of Mines and Geology. Metesh said they hope to do the work over the next two irrigation seasons.

It will involve 30 monitoring sites along the canal’s 11 miles. Meters will provide streamflow data, and he said they’ll physically measure the stream a few times each summer.

He also said they’ll look at the chemistry of the water, which will give clues as to whether the water came from the river or the ground. He said they’ll try to identify both when and where seepage is happening.

Seepage isn’t all bad. It recharges the groundwater aquifer, and the water can resurface in the Gallatin River or in other canals throughout the valley. Metesh said they won’t be able to study the interconnection between canals, but they will begin to see which parts of the canal are the leakiest.

“In some places, it’s going to leak more than others,” he said.