montana photograph Big Dry

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Foresight is a handy thing — especially for a rancher in northeast Montana like Brent McRae. Foresight led McRae to put a few earthen dams on the ranch to try and hold on to what little precipitation came.

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And, in spite of what seemed an awful lot of natural moisture last spring, it led him to install solar-powered pumps to fill a system of tubs strategically placed on his ranch for his cattle herd.

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Good thing, too. Because for five months, they didn’t get a drop of rain.

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But thanks to foresight, the McRaes and their Big Dry Angus Ranch made it through relatively well. This year will be a recovery year, McRae says. If it is a normal water year, things should be alright. But some of his neighbors operate too close to the edge, running a maximum amount of livestock on the land with little to no margin of error. Those are the neighbors who need a recovery year the most. If they don’t get one….

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A close eye will be kept on the forecasts and weather data disseminated by the National Weather Service’s facility in nearby Glasgow, Mont. At the facility, people like Brian Burleson send up daily weather balloons 100,000 feet into the sky to measure temperature, wind, humidity and barometric pressure.

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Water comes to the Milk River basin in northeast Montana from places besides the sky. Jeff Pattison stands in a length of pipe removed from the Saint Mary diversion project, which sends water bound for Hudson Bay from the Saint Mary River across a divide and into the Milk River basin.

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Montana Departement of Natural Resource Conservation water planner Michael Downey says as much as 80 percent of the water in the Milk comes through those pipes from the Saint Mary. The Saint Mary water project is 100 years old and in desperate need of maintenance.

See these pictures on my website.

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