The Snag Hole
"The water level on the upper is and has been stable for over a week now. 776 cfs out of Hebgen which translates to just under 1000 at Varney. This is lower than the long-term median average but not a bad level all things considered. Speaking of this…there may be some very positive changes in the works starting as early as this fall/winter. PP&L has recently indicated that they are considering some in-house changes to their Madison River management policies. In essence they will be looking at running the flows in a completely different and reactive way as has been been discussed here (and elsewhere). Their plan, apparently, is to run the flow out of Hebgen at the current rate (or close to it) all winter and keep most of the water in the reservoir instead of drawing it down as has been their practice. They will then react to real-time, on the ground conditions of snowpack and water content. They are talking about doing away with the 10% flow increase rule for the spring months and potentially upping the maximum over-Quake flow rate to 4000 cfs or a hair higher if possible. In essence they’re considering running the flows here more like a “real” undammed river would operate…moderate and stable over-winter flow and higher, runoff-like flows in the spring. The light bulbs seem to be flickering to life…Hallelujah! We’re not holding our collective breaths yet but it’s definitely a very good sign. Believe it or not (and some folks continue to choose not to believe it) this could be HUGE for this river and this fishery. If they actually make these changes and once they get the dam fixed (a whole other point of contention here) yearly spring flushing flows, cooler water temps and potentially higher flows here through most summers could mean some dramatic changes in the health and numbers of not only fish but fish food as well. We’ll be keeping a very close ear to this."
Shouldn't we be getting this kind of seriously vital input from the Madison River Foundation instead of a local boat rower? Isn't that the core reason for the existence of the Foundation? To Preserve, Protect and Enhance? THE HEBGEN DAM IS FAR AND AWAY THE SINGLE MOST CRITICAL FACTOR FOR THE HEALTH OF THE UPPER MADISON RIVER AND ITS TROUT. Nothing else is a close second.
Why doesn't the Foundation have someone like Lum agressively posting river info on a daily or weekly basis, especially during the important summer fishing season? Oops, I forgot...they did have that person on their board...his name was Mike Lum and he resigned. Why?
You can follow Mike Lum's comments in the River Reports section of the Madison River Fishing Company's website:
Richard Lessner has resigned his postion as Exec. Dir. of the Madison River Foundation, a non-profit he started when he rolled into town in 2003 and said "what a great idea". It's not the first time Mr. Lessner has resigned or been fired from his job.
In 1992, Lessner got in trouble for writing an article in the Arizona Republic newspaper ripping the victims of Hurricane Andrew in So. Florida, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the U.S., calling them "snivelers", whiners and ingrates. Hurricane Andrew left 65 people dead and caused over $26.5 billion in damage. After being deluged with negative feedback and outrage from all over the U.S., Lessner was forced to resign. He earned the nickname "Hurricane Lessner" over this fiasco. One of Lessner's famous quotes from this article was:
"Americans are suckers and will contribute cash money to almost any outfit so long as it's called "(fill in the blank)" center for the public interest". (Arizona Republic, Sept. 6, 1992). Sounds like Mr. Lessner didn't think much of common folk.
By the way, the Arizona Republic newspaper also had on staff David Hans Schmidt, also know as "The Sultan of Sleeze". He wrote articles for the paper as a "celebrity porn broker" and got caught trying to extort millions from Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes over their wedding photos. Schmidt hung himself in his Arizona home before facing trial. But I digress.
After losing his job in Arizona, Lessner went to work for the Manchester Union Leader newspaper in New Hampshire. He didn't last long. He was fired for writing an article bashing French Canadians. Oh well, there's always Washington DC.
Lessner rolled into Washington and landed a gig with the American Conservative Union. The ACU was founded by William F. Buckley in 1964 after Barry Goldwater lost the US Presidential election to Lyndon Johnson by 61% of the vote. Notable members of the ACU include Tom Delay (convicted felon), Jesse Helms, Richard Viguerie, Bob Barr and Brent Bozell. The ACU got into hot water in fiscal year 2009 when Exec. Dir. David Keene's ex-wife, Diana Hubbard Carr, was their comptroller. She got her hand caught in the cookie jar to the tune of $300,000. She was fired and pled guilty to embezzlement. Lessner was Executive Director of the American Conservative Union in 2004, a year after he "founded" The Madison River Foundation. Guess it was time to get out of Dodge.
So "Old Hurricane" landed a job with Captial City Partners (a Washington "consulting" firm) and wrote a nasty article for the Weekly Standard bashing soccer. Soccer? C'mon Richard, ease off on the hatred.
No one who lives in Ennis, Montana as I have for 34 years, wants anything but the best for the Madison River, this great valley and the good folks who live here and work here. Richard Lessner was forced to "retire" because he just did not get it. He thought he could get in bed with Pennsylvania Power and Light, take their money...and cover up for them. PP&L is a money donor to MRF...don't call them out...don't piss them off...cover up for them . You know how Washington works...scratch my back, etc.
Hey Richard, this ain't Washington DC...people here are honest...we deal in facts, reality, truth. Your cause is good...but your DNA is dangerous. The Madison River has a soul...it runs deep and true...it can't be bought.
Lessner put on a show...hang with all the money people...pimp the Sun West Subdivision where they dug up Native American campsites to build their summer mansions and then ran folks off for eating lunch at Horse Creek.
The Sun West Subdivision...who fucked up the Shelton Bridge so bad making the road nice and smooth for the "Foundation Benefactors" that they broke loose all the cliff swallow nests into the river and destroyed them. Who cares?...the swallows will be back next year...worthless birds, anyway. And don't forget to post those attractive "Land For Sale" signs on the Shelton Bridge. And make sure the road is nice and level, to make it easier for Craig and Jackie Matthews to get home from a hard day of taking credit for just about everything (they are Sun West residents...happy for them).
The Sun West Subdivision...site of the infamous Ed Parish "Secret Meeting" that took place unbeknownst to the public in a subversive effort to pressure FWP to "get rid of the boats on the river".
And let's not forget to pimp the Laszlos...those benevolent "Foundation Benefactors"...the Granger family...those caring and sharing environmentalists who would love to have you come visit, fish and duck hunt the Upper O'Dell Ck...as long as you write a big enough check. The same Granger/Laszlo family who dammed up and blocked off the O'Dell Creek outlet to the Madison River, upstream and east of Burnt Tree to keep the nasty old public out. Here's a quote from one of the Foundation volunteers:
"I volunteered in 2011 and 2012 at the Granger Ranch project. I am sure that the ranch benefited more from our efforts than the river. Richard Lessner has never given me a real handshake or looked me in the eye."
Mr. Lessner, were you aware the Granger/Laszlos artificially altered the course of O'Dell Creek outlet...a tributary to the Madison River... when you put your arm around them and gave them a big kiss? I'm sure you had no idea but heck, nobody's perfect, take their money anyway.
Hey Granger/Laszlos...you want to do something to help the Madison River and O'Dell Creek? Then restore the stream bed to its original, natural state....the way it was before you hacked it up and dammed it.
You can see the old stream bed from O'Dell Ck. that used to flow freely into the Madison River from the east side above Burnt Tree before the Granger Ranch blocked it off and altered its course to prevent the public from legal access to O'Dell Ck.
Get all the big money people in a room, have a big Gala, feed 'em a rubber chicken and a shrimp cocktail, pour some merlot, take their money and spread the news. Have a big Festival and get up there and strut your stuff...give away a boat...be somebody!
And start the Dick McGuire Memorial Fund...I get a chuckle out of that one...I knew Dick Mcguire...I lived with Dick McGuire...I fished with Dick McGuire. Mr Lessner...you have no clue about Dick McGuire.
So here we are today. The Madison River Foundation is a cause to believe in...a cause to support..an excellent cause. The question is how? What to do with the money? Who will lead?
I have friends on the Board...Sherri Shows, Nancy DiMeola, Storrs Bishop...these are the best of the best people you will ever meet. I have fished with Bruce Richards and he is at the top of the list in integrity and knowledge. Jim Goetz is one of the leading conservation and legal minds in the state of Montana and in the USA. I was here in 1984 to witness the courtroom work he did on the Beaverhead and Dearborn stream access cases...these were historical legal judgements...and he was kind enough to send me the legal briefs on the Beaverhead case which I sent along to some of my concerned fishing clients. Jim Goetz is top notch. I knew Jim's dad, Herb Goetz who was a legend here in Ennis and a one-of-a-kind character!
The Madison River Foundation will continue...the cause is just...they should reach around $300,000 in the bank by this year with a half-million in sight. Hurricane Lessner should be thanked for his efforts and sent on his way...this is not Washington DC or Arizona or New Hampshire...it is Montana. Things are different here. God Speed.
Make sure you have the wind right and sneak along the shoreline and don't fall in a hole making a big splash that will freak out the moose.
And speaking of watching, I had hoped the "Guardians of the River," The Madison River Foundation, would have been watching...or acting...or guarding...but instead they decided to play the "politics as usual"card. This was the response from their founder, Richard Lessner:
"The Foundation is neither a spokesman nor an apologist for PPL. Forecasting long term weather trends and how much water is going to be available months in the future is very challenging. Does PPL always get it exactly right? Of course not. But it does the best that current climate and weather science allows. Hindsight is always 20/20. Plus, PPL is answerable to many and varied stakeholders and does its best to satisfy often conflicting demands."
Thank you very much...now let's get to the important stuff...the next Gala Banquet...the next Festival...and those groovy embroidered shirts and hats. Get out there and press some flesh. And don't piss off the power company or y'all will be reading the wine list by candlelight. Tell Igor up there at the dam to keep spinning those dials...he's bound to hit it right sooner or later. In the meantime, pass the shrimp cocktail!
The following remarks are from Mike Lum. Mike is an Ennis, Mt. fishing guide and former Board Member (resigned) of the Madison River Foundation. The Foundation was founded in 2003 by Richard Lessner, a former Washington, D.C. lobbyist with the American Conservative Union.
Mike Lum's comments:
Late last week a newsletter penned by Richard Lessner of the Madison River Foundation started circulating in response to questions and concerns he’s been fielding about the current state of the Madison...flows and temperatures specifically. I disagree with a lot of what’s contained in that newsletter and would like to…for want of a better word…rebut what Richard said in it. This is not meant to be a personal attack on Richard or a condemnation of the Foundation itself. It is meant to give a different perspective and set the record straight on a few things that Richard got wrong. You can follow the URL links I’ll provide to check my facts if you’d like. I’ll try and follow the flow of the newsletter and address the things I have issues with in the order they appear there. Here we go…“PPL operates under strict requirements in its federal license that does not allow it to kill fish.” This is not strictly true…The language in the license speaks of temperature triggers only on the LOWER Madison to protect the fishery. Article 413 of the FERC license has the pertinent information. You can find that here…http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5133641.pdfBasing pulse flow protocols on a certain “trigger” temperature only accounts for part of the story. Trout don’t just all of a sudden start dying when the water temps reach 77 degrees or whatever they decide their number may be. Dissolved oxygen (which can vary based on many different factors...such as flow rate), external stresses (such as catch and release angling), available food, etc. can all attribute to mortality at much lower water temps. All this however is of little use here as they only have a pulse flow protocol in place for the LOWER MADISON (downstream from Ennis Lake). No such protections are in place for the upper river (the part that constitutes the #1 or #2 most used section of river in the state).“When water temperatures approach potentially lethal ranges, typically above 78F for rainbow trout…” What about brown trout? What about whitefish (you might not like em but big trout eat em)? What about sculpins and all the myriad invertebrates that trout eat?“PPL pulses water out of Hebgen Lake to cool Ennis Lake and, consequently, the lower river below Bear Trap.” No they don’t….they raise the flow out of Hebgen to keep Ennis Lake full enough (not cool enough...pretty tough to cool anything with 70+ degree water) to pulse the lower.Pulse: b. Any of a series of intermittent occurrences characterized by a brief sudden change in a quantity.“Brief, sudden change”…that means a raising and lowering of river flow in a short span of time (a few hours as in the case of lower river pulses). The differences in flow protocols between the upper and lower Madison are shown clearly in the USGS real-time stream flow hydrographs which you can find here…http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv/?site_no=06038500&PARAmeter_cd=00060,00065,00010and here…http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv/?site_no=06041000&PARAmeter_cd=00060,00065,00010“The upper river between Quake Lake and Ennis is much less susceptible to dangerous warming than the lower river.” Yes, Richard is mostly correct here…were we operating under anything approaching normal circumstances. PP&L continues work on Hebgen Dam which necessitates using the dam overflow structure to control the flow which draws water off the top of the reservoir (instead of 30 feet beneath the surface as was the case when the dam was functioning). The average water temp coming into the upper Madison is 3-5 degrees warmer to begin with than it “normally’ is. Since the dam failure and repair process began the upper river has actually been, on many days, experiencing warmer water temps at the Kirby gauge than downstream at Varney.“Higher water temperatures in the upper river may slow fishing during the middle part of the day, but they do not pose a lethal threat to the fish.” Wrong again…virtually every guide I know including myself has seen dead fish on a daily basis out there for almost a week now. Yes, this is due in part to stress from catch and release fishing (when coupled with the high water temps). It is NOT a normal occurrence to see dead fish on a daily basis on this river when “The river is doing just fine.”“PPL does take into consideration such recreational use as angling but its priority is to protect the fish.” Its priority, actually, is to protect its investors and its capacity to generate electricity. This is clearly illustrated in the license language.“But under its federal guidelines PPL cannot increase (or decrease) flows more than 10 percent a day. This limit is in consideration of recreational activities on the river, including fishing.” This is correct but it is also one of the license requirements a lot of us have been arguing for years needs to be changed. There is no reason we couldn’t do away with that rule for the months of March, April, May and even June. It is one of the rules that PP&L runs up against when they are making their inflow calculations in the fall. They can’t raise it more than 10% per day so they need to make sure they have enough room in the reservoir to accommodate enough runoff that they don’t need to.“In response to low flows and higher temperatures PPL began pulsing water out of Hebgen this week.” No, they didn’t…in response to high water temps (nothing to do with low flows) on the LOWER Madison they began pulsing water out of Ennis Lake so they had to raise the flow out of Hebgen to keep enough water in Ennis to do so.“As to flows, this year's drought conditions (see map above) have caused lower than average river flows across much of the region.” Yes, and we all knew that we were seeing drought conditions as early as February in this part of the state. More on this later but you can find the data here…Look in the Water Year 2013 .pdfs for continuing updates throughout the year.http://www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/watersupply/outlook_reports.html“PPL has been criticized for keeping flows too high over the winter. At FWPs suggestion, PPL maintains fairly constant flows from November through March in order to protect spawning habitat in the main stem of the Madison. Steady flows around 1,000 cfs are deemed important for this purpose.” Yes, you can see from article 403, section 4 of the FERC license, the first part of Richard’s statement is (sort of) true. They actually do it because they are mandated to in the license not because FWP suggests it but…I’m being nitpicky. The last sentence however is not…nowhere in there does it say anything about 1000 cfs (or greater as it was operated at 1100-1200 cfs for most of this winter). Trout don’t necessarily need 1000 cfs to spawn successfully….only STABLE FLOWS to protect the eggs until they hatch. The fish will find areas to spawn whether the flow is 500, 1000 or 5000 cfs.http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5133641.pdf“In looking at long-range weather, snow and moisture forecasts last fall, PPL deemed such flows justifiable. The forecasts turned out to be less than accurate, predicted average spring snows did not appear, and water levels are low.” Less than accurate forecasts?!? In the Rocky Mountains?? Six months in advance?? NO!! Once again, you can take a look at the NRCS water data for MT and not only was southwest, MT the driest part of the state this past winter it started out so in January and February and continued to decline through the first two weeks in May. This is possibly THE most important part of our argument. PP&L stubbornly refuses to utilize real-time, on the ground weather and water data when they are calculating their winter and spring time flow regime. You can clearly see here….http://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv?cb_00060=on&cb_00065=on&cb_00010=on&format=gif_default&period=&begin_date=2013-03-01&end_date=2013-07-07&site_no=06038500That despite the persistently dry condition in the Madison drainage, they didn’t really react (with lowered flows out of Hebgen) until mid-May and early June (when it was WAY too late). They actually ran it at almost 1000 cfs out of Hebgen (almost 700 cfs higher than during the hottest stretch of weather we had here last week) until late April. The importance of this and the timing CANNOT be overstated. They had plenty of water in the lake to have it full by April or May had they reacted sooner to the drought conditions. People will talk about hindsight and such…B.S.! The data showing drought conditions here existed in January! The river paid hard for this over the past several weeks and could pay hard again later this summer. “Under its federal license, PPL is required to fill Hebgen by June 30. It's almost there. The lake today is less than a foot from full pool.” Yes, less than a foot from full…the foot that actually contains the most acre feet of any as they fill it. The sides of the reservoir are not straight up and down…the closer it gets to full the more water it takes per inch to continue filling it. They MIGHT get it full if they get lucky and it keeps raining but only at the expense of seriously low flows and high water temps on the upper river. “A full Hebgen provides a reserve of water for those pulse flows mentioned above should July, August and September prove unusually warm. Retaining the highest possible level of water in the lake also facilitates completion of repair work on the dam. Lake levels in the fall determine how long into the season construction can continue. PPL aims to complete work on the dam in 2014, something everybody desires.” Hey…something we agree on! It’s just that PP&L should have had it full months ago before it got hot!“The fisheries biologists at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks also closely monitor river temperatures and flows. FWP has established and published guidelines on temperatures and river closures for cold water fisheries. Here is the link to these guidelines: Drought Fishing Closure Policy.” Yep, great…so the only policy in place to mitigate stress on fish in the upper is closure. They’d actually rather close it to fishing than put more water into it to cool it off.“It would be nice, of course, if nature were entirely predictable. It's not. Weather, climate, snowfall, rain, drought -- all change from year to year. Some years are wetter than others; some are drier. Predicting months in advance how much water will be available is tricky.” No shit…that’s why they should factor in real-time data!“Moreover, even in "normal" years the Madison naturally has a steep daily thermograph. In summer the river has a very steep temperature curve, rising sharply in the middle of the day and falling overnight. This is entirely natural.” Yep, the only unnatural parts are the heat sink reservoirs and the broken dam.“Longtime Madison anglers know it's best to fish early, take the afternoon off, and wait on the river to start cooling toward evening. Those who insist on fishing "banker's hours" should accept this daily temperature spike as a reality and adjust expectations accordingly. Of course, even this reality is subject to exceptions. Trout may continue to feed actively even when water temperatures increase above the ideal if there is abundant food present, such as grasshoppers in late summer.” And apparently some of us need an education on how and when to fish the Madison…and oh, don’t forget to “adjust expectations…”“Warm summer temperatures and lower flows are normal. These conditions are even more pronounced in uncontrolled rivers that do not support dams and reservoirs.” We LOVE dams and reservoirs!! Yay!!“The Madison is not in crisis. It is a healthy, robust river and a superb fishery. The river is doing just fine; it's human expectations that need adjustment.” Yes, the Madison will weather the current crisis that some folks would rather keep their heads in the sand about. Water will continue to flow, fish will continue to eat and (sometimes) flourish here…this, somehow, misses the point. One of the greatest natural resources we have in this state, one that not only generates countless hours of enjoyment for thousands of people (anglers and non) but millions of dollars in state revenue from tourism dollars is under the management and control of an out of state, for-profit power company. Are they the devil incarnate? No, of course not…but they absolutely could choose to do things in a way that would benefit the people who use and love this river….possibly even over their own corporate concerns. That last sentence I quoted actually strikes me as a bit contradictory. So, there’s no problem…we just need to adjust our expectations and everything is just fine…Hmmm…for some reason that just doesn’t sit very well. All the Bengal Tigers are dying! …well, you just need to adjust your expectations that there will be fewer of them and it’ll be fine. A bit tangential I know but…The license requirements that I’d like to see revisited are the 10% per day maximum flow change. I think this could be done away with, as previously stated during the months of Feb, March, April, May and possibly even June. Also the 3500 cfs max flow over Quake. This is to minimize erosion of the earthen dam. Quake is naturally eroding anyway…..it is a lake created through natural causes. Why are we working so hard to keep it as it is? So we speed up the erosion of the dam and lowering of the lake level by a decade or two (if that, I’m making up those numbers to illustrate a point). The years PP&L would need to run it higher than 3500 would be few and far between anyway if they paid attention and utilized real-time data. This is from article 403, section 4 of the FERC license… “…maintain the elevation of Hebgen Reservoir between 6,530.26 and 6,534.87 feet (normal full pool elevation) from June 20 through October 1.” Take a look at those elevation numbers…..as per the license that RANGE is considered “normal full pool elevation”. There is FOUR FEET of lake elevation within this parameter that P&LL could use to keep more flow in the river! Think about that….yet on most years they end up with closer to 6534 feet than they do the smaller number. In fact there is 6534.5 feet in there RIGHT NOW…yet they ran it at almost minimum flows while the water temp climbed to 74 degrees (actually much higher than that in the channels section downstream from Ennis)! Now tell me again how they are doing such a great job managing this river. SO…even after the dam repairs are finished (as certainly was the case before it broke) PP&L can and will still run the upper river to try and maintain a full reservoir (as long as the lower stays cool enough they don’t have to pulse it). Then, come late Sept or early Oct they jack the flow (most years this will end up being higher all winter than during the hottest part of the summer) to draw the lake level down again. I’m not making this up. They are operating within the constraints of their licensing agreement…legally not doing anything wrong. We are questioning the rules themselves not PP&Ls compliance to them.The information is there. The language in the license is clear. There is leeway for PP&L even as it is written. They CHOOSE to operate as they do in many cases. This is the gist of our (my) argument. Draw your own conclusions.Mike Lum