The Blackfoot Challenge:

Working with local ranchers

to create a Drought Response Plan

Although the Blackfoot Challenge does not work on climate change issues, their approach provides a superb example of the ways in which Montanans can work together to more effectively address community water issues in a warmer and drier climate.

Since 1993, the Blackfoot Challenge has been working with local communities to conserve and share the natural resources of the 1.5 million acre Blackfoot Watershed, and to maintain the rural way of life of the area's 8,100 residents.

Frustrated by Montana's Drought Management Plan during a particularly severe drought, members of the seven communities living in the Blackfoot Watershed formed their own Drought Committee to come up with a better plan.

The idea was simple: given that drought is a fact of life in Montana, how can the communities in one watershed balance water needs and availability through shared sacrifice and water conservation in bad drought years?

The Blackfoot Drought Response Plan

The answer became the Blackfoot Drought Response Plan, completed in 2000, which was created collaboratively and voluntarily by local ranchers, anglers and outfitters.

The Plan sought to find ways to reduce water use during severe droughts, and to distribute water from the Blackfoot River more equitably during these difficult times as well.

Most importantly, there are no mandatory actions under this plan.

Instead, both senior and junior water rights users, as well as outfitters and anglers, worked to create voluntary, self-defined plans for water conservation that would also reduce adverse effects on fisheries during droughts.

The success of this approach has led to national recognition (see news story at right), and has been followed by new work on an irrigation efficiency program.

Today, the Blackfoot Challenge is also sharing its consensus-based conservation model with other working landscapes across the West.

Given that droughts are expected to become more frequent in Montana as the climate continues to warm, could the example set by the Blackfoot Challenge help your community as well?

Photo at top of page: iStock.