A triple dip La Nina weather pattern calls for another dry winter season. A system that brought late-season rains in the summer months, not enough to pull Montana out of a never-ending drought.
Montana ranchers like DeBruycker Charolais are feeling the effects as winter approaches.
“Water supply can also be a problem in certain areas because the springs are drying up and stuff like that,” said Brett DeBruycker, a pure breeder of Charolais cattle in Choteau.
It’s a headache for ranchers to fight for hay, pasture and water in a bad year.
“Apart from getting through in the summer and trying to find enough grass and water. You know, this winter, as dry as we’ve been, we haven’t had much fall grazing.”
For DeBruycker, grazing his herd in the fall and winter was sparse. Part of his herd sits at a feeding ground north of Choteau, causing further expense.
“…in the winter when it gets so cold, it’s quite difficult to fetch water. And in summer it is also difficult to fetch water. Actually it’s just, you know, it’s just not a viable option. But in winter you really just need to find a place with some water. And the sad thing is, you know, you might be leaving behind grass that you have available elsewhere because you don’t have water there. And you may have to stay in the areas where you have water for too long.
Aquasource Drilling in Great Falls addresses water system issues during the winter months. A major problem for manufacturers is frozen water systems.
Tyrel Hlavnicka, owner of Aquasource Drilling, says they have had zero to no calls about freezing water systems, but it has only recently started to reach wintery temperatures.
“Check your systems in time before they freeze. That is the greatest advice.”
He says what a lot of people don’t understand is that when the snow flies, it doesn’t fix an already dry situation.
“…the winter months and many people don’t realize how dry it can be because of the snow on the ground. Winter is one of the driest seasons for groundwater because everything is frozen here. It’s not in the ground.”
Drilling new or deeper wells is a solution for those struggling with winter water. It is important to note that the water below the surface does not freeze. When the water is pumped to the surface, pipes, tanks and pressure systems can freeze, burst or pressure systems can fail.
If any of this happens, it’s not an easy fix.
“A quick, simple visit can cost a few hundred dollars if it’s something really simple for us. And it just doesn’t work anymore. Or if things were left unattended all last winter and never been drained and never cared for, it could be a whole new install that could cost $10,000.”
A $10,000 bill to repair a water system isn’t always in producers’ budgets, but Hlavnicka shared a winter water system checklist to avoid a potential problem:
· Check the pump housing beforehand.
· Check that the pump casings are properly insulated to ensure minimal cold air entering the system and freezing the pipes.
· Check pressure systems.
· Check the stock water heaters and spot problems before it’s too late.
Being proactive is a start to solving a problem that can’t be fixed overnight. DeBruycker is calling on state and federal lawmakers (state senators and state officials) to take action to take the drought seriously.
“It’s important that our legislators, our senators and representatives, both at the state and national levels … they need to understand the dire situation that we are in right now, not only in this area of Montana, but also in western United states. And you know, it’s pretty important that we keep this herd of cows intact as much as possible.”
The Montana Department of Agriculture currently has no drought assistance in its system. We were looking for information on how they could help ranchers and they said their county/region needs to be classified as a disaster.
To serve as a producer and to contact federal and state officials, follow the resources below:
Senator Jon Tester, D – Montana: 119 1st Ave N #102, Great Falls, MT 59401
Senator Steve Daines, R – Montana: 104 4th St N #302, Great Falls, MT 59401
Representative Matt Rosendale, R – Montana: 410 Central Avenue Suite 407, Great Falls, MT 59404
Phone: 406-770-6260 Representative Ryan Zinke, R – Montana: [email protected]
To contact the Senate and members of the House of Representatives, visit: https://app.mt.gov/cgi-bin/filing/index.cgi?ACTION=LIST_LEG