ISSUE – Desire to improve water quality and quantity into Freezout, a 12,000 acre nationally renowned waterfowl production area, while improving the farming practices around Freezout. Improving the water quality in Freezout will also help improve the water quality of the Teton River. How to match all problems and future direction into compatible solutions?
BACKGROUND – Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) established in 1952 is located approximately 40 miles west of Great Falls, Montana along U.S. Highway 93 between Fairfield and Choteau. The WMA consists of 12,000 acres of shallow lakes and ponds, marsh and grasslands. At maximum water levels, standing water in lakes, ponds and canals covers about 6,000 acres. Management and maintenance of the WMA is the responsibility of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The WMA is primarily managed to promote waterfowl and upland game-bird production, hunting and viewing. This area is considered to be a key staging area along the Pacific Flyaway during spring and fall migration of water birds. It is estimated that up to a million waterfowl including snow geese and tundra swans utilize the area. Other special species that have been observed include trumpeter swan, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, common loon, American white pelican, white-faced ibis and ferruginous hawk. Of the 158 bird species that have been observed at the WMA, 67 species including 13 waterfowl and 24 other water-bird species, nest within the area.
Prior to the start of irrigation on surrounding lands, Freezout Basin contained several shallow, non-discharging lakes that would completely evaporate during dry years. When Greenfields Irrigation District was started, water flow into Freezout basin both through groundwater seepage, on-farm waste and irrigation canal wasting increased to the point these lakes became permanently flooded. As a result, a drainage canal system from Freezout to the Teton River was constructed to prevent unacceptable flooding of roads and surrounding agriculture lands.
Since the beginning of Freezout as a WMA, both water quality and quantity have been issues. The water quality into the Teton River is also an issue for water users in that basin. Sufficient amounts of clean water into Freezout has become a major concern especially during these ongoing drought years.
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