The Bitter Root Water Forum (BRWF) recently organized a day-long tour of Bitterroot irrigation structures and systems — including Lake Como, several feeder ditches, fish conservation structures, and private land examples — for Future Farmers of America (FFA) students in the Bitterroot Valley.
On, Thursday, May 22, FFA students from Stevensville embarked on a unique field trip led by the Bitter Root Water Forum (BRWF). Now in its third year, the “Future Irrigators of the Bitterroot” Field Trip is part of an ongoing effort of BRWF to increase youth access to watershed education. A wide variety of water-related professionals volunteered to speak at four different stops throughout the daylong event.
“It is a great learning experience,” said Katie Vennie, the Big Sky Watershed Corps member for BRWF. “We travel through the valley like water does. Starting at Lake Como, we continue to make our way downstream stopping at diversions and fish screens until we reach irrigated fields. The ‘Future Irrigators of the Bitterroot’ Field Trip gives the students a complete view of water’s role in agriculture in the valley.”
The day began with a tour of Lake Como Dam and Reservoir facilities led by John Crowley, Bitter Root Irrigation District manager. At Como, students learned about the history of the dam, where the water comes from, and the local seasonal irrigation schedule. From there the students stopped at the Hedge Ditch and Republican Ditch diversions. There Tim Meuchel and Rhonda King, of Daly Ditches, discussed their irrigation systems and Chris Clancy, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Fisheries Biologist and BRWF board member, explained the functions of fish screens and other fish-related issues involved in irrigation. The day concluded at Huls Dairy where the students toured the property and saw the results of the irrigation systems in practice in the field.
Heather Mullee, Executive Director of BRWF, couldn’t be happier that the “Future Irrigators” field trip is being offered for the third year in a row.
“The idea for the field trip came from a survey we did in 2011 to assess the state of natural resources education in the valley,” said Mullee. “By talking with dozens of educators we found that there was a desire to offer more field trips to students but the time to organize, plan, and fund the trips just wasn’t available.”
As a community driven nonprofit, BRWF responded to this need by working with FFA teachers and irrigation professionals to put together a comprehensive field trip about irrigation in the Bitterroot.
“This trip is just one example of how we have been able to increase students’ access to watershed education by partnering with other natural resource professionals,” said Mullee. “Since we conducted the survey in 2011 we have reached over 3,000 students with classroom lessons and field trips where students can dive in to watershed education.”