By John Stember, The Madisonian
Three groups file complaint against NorthWestern Energy in Jan. 2022
In November 2021, a gate component failed on Hebgen Dam and cut off two thirds of the flow to the fabled Madison River. The public noticed the drop in water levels the next morning and tried to alert NorthWestern Energy (NWE) but struggled to get a hold of the entity for a few hours.
Jeremy Clotfelter, the director of hydro operations for NWE, confirmed flows dropped on the Madison River on Nov. 30 around 2-3 a.m. According to USGS charts, the river went from about 648 CFS to around 216 CFS—a 67% reduction in water flow.
The substantial gate malfunction dried up portions of the river and stranded fish and other aquatic species. The Madison River is known as one of the most renowned blue ribbon trout streams in southwestern Montana and is the economic and spiritual lifeblood for many communities.
NWE responded to the gate malfunction with a companywide all-hands-on-deck. They identified a gate stand coupling as the problem underwater, ordered a new piece to be manufactured in Anaconda in record time, and restored flows to the Madison River. All told, it took NWE about 40 hours to get the river back to normal.
Overall, the impacts on the Madison River were difficult to determine. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) recently said the influence on the fishery is still unknown.
“It could take more than a year to measure and understand what, if any, population level impacts have occurred,” said FWP spokesperson Morgan Jacobsen. David Brooks, executive director for Montana Trout Unlimited, agreed.
“Lots of people think there’s going to be impact to the fishery, but we don’t know. That data is not in yet,” said Brooks.