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Big Hole Stock Tanks

A portable PV array powers stock water pumps in the Big Hole Valley.A pump powered by the portable photovoltaic array (right) fills  stock tanks in the Big Hole Valley in Southwest Montana. Partners on this demonstration project include the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Sandia National Laboratory; Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks; the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; the Beaverhead Conservation District; Vigilante Electric Co-op; and the Big Hole Watershed Committee.

Bonneville Environmental Foundation 

A goal to produce renewable energy while simultaneously improving riparian habitat is highlighted by two new Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) solar projects. "The people proposing them understood how moving stocks off streams made sense biologically," said Angus Duncan, president of the Foundation.

He believes the two projects will reinforce the view that solar has extended niche applications in the Northwest, particularly for small electric loads a nominal distance beyond the grid. 

One project is in Washington, the other in Southwestern Montana's Big Hole watershed, where a solar stock-watering project could benefit local fish populations. 

According to the National Center for Appropriate Technology, which proposed the project to BEF, the Big Hole River frequently has low water conditions near the end of the short summers. Low water and associated high water temperatures can be lethal to the river's valuable and unusual fish populations. The Big Hole is widely known as a highly productive trout stream and is home to the last native population of river-dwelling Arctic grayling in the lower 48 states.

"Ditches are an extremely inefficient means of delivering water to cattle," because of evaporative losses and leaks, according to NCAT's proposal. A total of 14 stock-watering wells (including one with solar-powered pumping) were recently installed next to eight large stock-watering ditches. 

NCAT plans to work with other stakeholders "to build one additional solar-powered stock-watering well at a key location in the Big Hole watershed by the fall of 2001, enabling ranchers to leave water in the stream during critical low-flow periods.

This project would significantly increase the margin of safety for grayling and trout populations." The project seeks to expand awareness among ranchers of solar-powered water pumping. 

"We all have high hopes that the demonstration of these technologies and their use in cost-effective applications like the solar watering will inspire more use of the resource," said BEF board member Rachel Shimshak.

The Pintler Mountains provide the backdrop in this view of a stock tank in the Big Hole Valley. A solar-powered pump fills this and other tanks in the area.

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