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Murphy Spring Creek

Location map for Murphy Spring Creek in the Blackfoot Watershed

Murphy Spring Creek is a cold groundwater and basin-fed stream, entering the North Fork of the Blackfoot River at stream mile 9.9. The stream originates on the north side of Ovando Mountain and flows 6 miles south to its junction with the North Fork and has a base flow of 4 cfs. The upper four miles of Murphy Spring Creek is in public ownership, with the lower two miles being in private ownership.

In order to prioritize restoration resources, we developed a fisheries-based restoration priority scorecard, based on biological, social and financial considerations, for 83 impaired tributaries of the Blackfoot River. Murphy Spring Creek is ranked 17 of 83 streams surveyed. Fishery surveys indicate the stream to be a North Fork westslope cutthroat trout spawning stream and a bull trout rearing stream.

photo of the culvert before
Culvert before.
photo of the culvert after restoration
Culvert after restoration.

Two significant fishery impacts have been identified in this stream. One is a perched and undersized culvert near the mouth (stream mile 0.5) of Spring Creek.  A 1997 sampling documented juvenile bull trout below the culvert but none above it. In 1999, the property changed hands allowing us to remove and replace the elevated and perched cuvert with a larger culvert with baffles. In 2001, we re-sampled fish populations above the new culvert. The survey found the culvert was passing juvenile bull trout including young-of-the-year, as well as all size classes of westslope cutthroat trout.

The second fishery problem was a defunct irrigation structure (stream mile 1.6) that served a large irrigation reservoir. This diversion created several problems including impacting upstream migrations of fluvial westslope cutthroat trout, entrainment of downstream migrating fish and dewatering of the stream for 1.6 miles.

In 1998, the irrigation diversion was replaced with a new structure that has a collapsible brace that will allow for debris and bedload movement down the stream. The structure was also fitted with a Denil fish ladder that will allow for upstream migrations as well as minimum instream flows. A self cleaning fish screen and water lease is being negotiated with the water users to assure instream flows and that all species and size classes of fish are eliminated from the ditch. The new landowner on the lower two miles of Murphy Spring Creek entered into a conservation easement with the Montana Land Reliance perpetually protecting the entire watershed.

Old irrigation diversion structure on Murphy Spring Creek

New irrigation diversion structure on Murphy Spring Creek

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