Flathead Watershed Dams and Irrigation

There are three dams in the Flathead Watershed: Hungry Horse Dam in Hungry Horse, Kerr Dam in Polson, and Bigfork Hydroelectric Project in Bigfork.

Hungry Horse Dam was completed in 1952 to provide water storage, flood control, and electrical power, and is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). The Dam is 564 feet (171 m) high and impounds Hungry Horse Reservoir which is 35 miles (46 km) long with a storage capacity of 3,468,000 acre-feet (4.28 billion m3). Annual average peak flows at Columbia Falls decreased from 65,000 to 46,500 cubic feet (from 1950 to 1395 m3) per second after the completion of this dam.

Kerr Dam is 541 feet (165 m) long and 205 feet (62.5 m) high and has a storage capacity of 1.2 million acre-feet (1.48 trillion m3). The dam has been providing flood control and power production since 1938, and is currently operated under a joint license between Pennsylvania Power and Light Montana (PPLM) and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The 1,000 foot (305 m) boardwalk at Kerr Dam offers visitors an amazing view atop the falls of the canyon below.

Figure 1.11: Reservoir at Hungry Horse Dam. Source: U.S. Department of Interior Figure 1.12: Hungry Horse Dam.
Source: U.S. Department of Interior
Figure 1.13: Kerr Dam. Source: Matthew Hoelscher

Bigfork Dam is a small, 4000-kilowatt peak capacity hydroelectric dam on the Swan River. It is also the site of the annual Bigfork Whitewater Festival. At the height of spring runoff, the “Wild Mile” offers Class V whitewater to over 200 skilled, brazen, and competitive kayakers.

Figure 1.14: Bigfork Hydroelectric Plant. Source: Walt Curtis Figure 1.15: Bigfork Dam. Source: Lori Curtis Figure 1.16: Swan River “Wild Mile” whitewater kayaking. Source: Walt Curtis

The Flathead Agency Irrigation District (FAID) on the Flathead Indian Reservation operates an elaborate system of reservoirs, natural channels, and human-made irrigation canals to store and distribute water. In addition to the larger reservoirs of Crow, Hubbard, Kicking Horse, Ninepipe, and Pablo, there are 12 additional reservoirs and approximately 447 acres (181 hectares) of canals.  

For more information, send email to info@flatheadwatershed.org or info@flatheadcore.org.
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