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Montana Watershed Coordination Council | P.O. Box 1416 Helena, MT 59624 | info@mtwatersheds.orgClick Here to Sign-up for our Watershed Newsletter

Project Support: Building Drought Resilience through Soil Health

Blackfoot Challenge soil scientist Barry Dutton describes how to use a newly installed soil moisture monitor

As part of the Blackfoot Drought Response Plan, the Blackfoot Challenge used MWCC Watershed Fund Project Support funding to reach out to private landowners who would be interested in monitoring their soil moisture. They helped producers refine their irrigation practices and improve land and water stewardship in the Watershed. The Challenge uses the example of their first soil moisture monitoring partner as a reference for future projects. When the results from monitoring showed issues of overwatering and poor soils, the landowner responded to these challenges by upgrading to more efficient irrigation equipment and improved irrigation practices. This ultimately led to conserving nearly 400,000 gallons of water in an irrigation season. Not every property the Challenge will work with will have these dramatic results, but this is an example of how much water can be saved for future drought seasons.

  • 120 stakeholders engaged, including landowners, community members, conservation districts, local watershed groups, larger nonprofits, and federal and state government agencies
  • 6 conservation practices implemented
    • Watershed resource education
    • Riparian infrastructure improvement
    • Riparian management improvement
    • Soil health improvements 
    • Irrigation efficiency tests and upgrades
  • 1,500 acres of riparian buffer and croplands made more resilient
  • 3 miles of stream improved
Future impacts on the Blackfoot Watershed and its communities:

On top of having goals of improving drought resiliency, the Blackfoot Challenge also has a goal of improving overall water quality. This project will do both by decreasing the amount of runoff from overwatering on ranches that would go into streams and rivers. This project has also led to increased community engagement. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was increased interest in a tour of the first project. With protocols in place, the Challenge was able to bring about 30 individuals together in October 2020 to visit two Helmville ranches to learn about soil moisture monitoring, irrigation efficiency improvements, and soil health-focused grazing practices. After this tour, five participants were interested in installing the same soil monitoring systems on their properties in 2021.

Partners and landowners learn about new soil health innovations on a Helmville ranch during a fall 2020 Blackfoot soil health field tour.
Impact of the Watershed Fund:

The Watershed Fund allowed the Blackfoot Challenge to access funding that they might not have been successful with if they had pursued it directly through federal agencies. This project has opened the door to future projects with landowners who attended the October 2020 tour and planning for these projects has already begun. Soil health projects are used as an example to help the network of landowners understand how the changes they make to irrigation can save them money, conserve their property, and protect water resources.