Yellowstone River Coordinator's Office
Mountain-Prairie Region
Fish Passage

There are six diversion dams on the main-stem Yellowstone River downstream from Billings, MT (Figure 1). The uppermost (Huntley) and the lowermost (Intake) diversions are Federally owned, while the middle four (Waco, Rancher’s Ditch, Yellowstone, and Cartersville) are privately owned and managed by the local irrigation districts. All six dams present some degree of impediment to fish passage. However, the extent of fish blockage at these dams seems to depend on river stage and the swimming ability of the various species trying to negotiate the dams. Bramblett and White (2001) noted that two radio-tagged shovelnose sturgeon marked below Intake Dam were later found above the structure. They also found tagged pallid sturgeon at the base of the dam, but did not find tagged pallid sturgeon above the dam. Helfrich et al. (1999) documented passage of fishes at both Huntley and Intake Dams and concluded that the dams are passable for certain species during high flows, but the series of the six dams may have a cumulative impact that in low water years is leading to a reduction in abundance and distribution of fishes. Along with the irrigation diversion dams on the Yellowstone, there are several diversions on major tributary streams that pose fish passage concerns.


Literature Cited

Bramblett, R. G., and R. G. White. 2001. Habitat use and movement of pallid and shovelnose sturgeon in the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in Montana and North Dakota. Transaction of the American Fisheries Society 130:1006-1025.

Helfrich, L. A., C. Liston, S. Hiebert, M. Albers, and K. Frazer. 1999. Influence of low-head dams on fish passage, community composition, and abundance in the Yellowstone River, Montana. Rivers 7 (1):21-32.

Last updated: July 15, 2008