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Billings' only water source, the Yellowstone River, hit a record daily low last month

Posted at 2:30 PM, Jan 16, 2022

BILLINGS — The Yellowstone River, Billings' only source of drinking water, hit a historic daily low last month. This has raised concerns about the future of this precious natural resource as a continued source.

As drought persists in Montana, the Yellowstone River is becoming even more valuable. Cold weather and ice jams will still raise concerns through January and February.

Ice jams have historically caused problems. In years past, they have cut the flow to as little as 400 to 500 cubic feet per second, compared to a typical winter flow of about 2,000 cubic feet per second.

Water levels in the Yellowstone River reached 800 cubic feet per second at a monitoring station last month, which was a record low for that day.

But while ice jams do cause problems, ongoing dry conditions are a much bigger problem.

In August, the drought forced the city to implement water restrictions for the first time since the 1970s.

This summer, Billings Public Works had to push water at capacity for 2 to 3 months.

The city has begun building a new huge reservoir to help ease the demand for water. This is a massive $140 million project that is not yet fully funded, and city officials have not identified a completion date.

The city and others hope that this winter will bring much-needed moisture to the region.