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Orvis and NFWF Announce $150,000 Project
For Jefferson River Watershed

Matching Funds Campaign To Benefit Trout Unlimited Project

MANCHESTER, Vermont — The Orvis Company of Manchester, VT and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have announced a matching funds campaign to raise $150,000 in support of the efforts to improve the Jefferson River Watershed. Funds raised will be donated to Trout Unlimited’s efforts to preserve one of Montana’s historic rivers.

As the Big Hole, Ruby and Beaverhead Rivers converge in Twin Bridges, Montana, the Jefferson River is formed. From there, the Jefferson River flows 70 miles north to meet the Madison and Gallatin Rivers to form the Missouri River. Residents have used the Jefferson River to irrigate local agriculture for the last half a century with little, or no effect. This began to change in the late 1980s. After several poor water years, fish counts on the river dropped from about 600 adult brown trout per mile to fewer than 300 by the mid 1990s. During the summer irrigation season the river now routinely drops to a mere trickle in some areas, with water temperatures reaching nearly 80 degrees. Today, the Jefferson River is a mere shadow of the river that Lewis and Clark once ascended in 1805 and named after the then President.

A burgeoning watershed group made up of local citizens has formed to start developing ways to restore the river. National Trout Unlimited, with support from Orvis and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, are now making the restoration of the Jefferson River a top national priority. Trout Unlimited is partnering with various other local, state and federal stakeholders to design and implement a project that will begin to restore the Jefferson River. There are several elements of the project:

  • Improve instream flows. The Jefferson River is over appropriated; many more water rights have been granted in the basin than there is water to satisfy those rights. Work with landowners to encourage voluntary measures that will keep water in the river, including improving irrigation efficiency.
  • Reduce fish loss due to irrigation. As many of the water diversions on the Jefferson River are unscreened, work with willing landowners and state and federal agencies to screen problem diversions.
  • Restore tributary habitats. The restoration work, which will use the latest techniques in applied fluvial geomorphology, will emphasize restoring natural stream functions to move sediments and minimize summer and winter thermal stress on redds, juveniles, and adults.
  • Promote long-term conservation planning. Work with state and local land trusts, to identify and secure conservation easements along the mainstream Jefferson and its tributaries. Conservation easements will not only help protect the river and its fishery, but they can also help create a financial incentives to maintain open spaces and resist the sprawl that is so common along many other Montana rivers

Despite being formed by such rivers as the Big Hole, Beaverhead and the Ruby, the Jefferson has been written-off for decades because most believed there was no means to provide water to this over-appropriated river without building water storage projects or attacking water users, their water rights, and ultimately the way of life for valley residents. The effort that is beginning to unfold on the Jefferson River is centered on promoting and preserving sustainable agriculture in the river valley while at the same time restoring the river and its fisheries.