©2013 C. Vandemoer
This brief article focuses on a field reconnaissance of Revais Creek conducted for the purpose of evaluating the proposed instream flow for the creek contained in the Flathead Project Water Use Agreement (FIP water use agreement). Recall that the FIP Water Use Agreement transfers all but 180,000 acre feet of the water currently used by irrigators in the federal irrigation project to the ownership of the CSKT/federal government. The Tribes then take this water and transfer it into instream flow in creeks across the reservation. Revais Creek, located near Dixon, Montana, is one such targeted stream.
Revais Creek originates in the mountains at an elevation of about 3,800 feet, drains an area of 26 square miles, and is approximately 16 miles in length. It flows generally in a straight northwesterly direction along an existing fault line and enters the Flathead River just west of the town of Dixon.
Revais Creek watershed is known primarily for its mining history. Copper-bearing veins in Revais Creek also yield gold, silver, and lead and tons of ore were shipped out of the area from 1904 until about 1961. The mine was a good source of income for locals, and the mine company stocked the upper portion of Revais Creek with trout to give the families and off-duty workers some recreational opportunities. The upper portion of Revais Creek is visited quite frequently by anglers who also point out the food supply in the creek is plentiful for trout.
The Revais Creek mining district is located in Sanders County south of the Flathead River and the towns of Perma and Dixon. It was also known as the Dixon district, after the town of that name located at the junction of the Jocko and Flathead Rivers.
The ore shipped from the district consists of malachite, chrysocolla, quartz, and rock carrying copper, silver, gold, platinum, and palladium. The deposits were not worked below the zone of oxidation, but some of the ore shows small residual patches of chalcopyrite, pyrite, and some bornite, the latter secondary. The gabbro dike also has a metallic content (Sahinen 1935).
The Revais Creek district is on the Flathead Indian Reservation, which was opened to location in 1904. The town of Dixon became a natural trading center for settlers. Although mining began in 1910, it was intermittent and not very profitable. Gold-copper ore was shipped from 1910 to 1925. Shipments made in 1932 and 1933 contained 0.10 to 0.50 ounces of platinum per ton (platinum was not paid for in earlier shipments). Some claims showing high-grade silver ore had been partially developed by the 1930s (Sahinen 1935).
Between 1906 and 1961 the total production of the district was 1,277 ounces gold, 5,752 ounces silver, 1,392,791 pounds copper, 22 pounds lead, and no zinc. The 9,099 tons of ore yielded $242,296 in value. There was no production recorded in the years 1906-09, 1914, 1921, 1923-24, 1926-30, 1934, 1943, and 1950-1961 (Crowley 1963).
Gaining and Losing Streams
The course of Revais Creek follows along a fault line, which indicates that the Creek bed is highly fractured and as a result, most likely has losing and gaining sections, in other words, where the water in the creek seeps into the ground (losing) or where ground water flows into the stream (gaining). The condition of the streambed is often an indicator of the kinds of flows the stream carries and whether it is a year round stream or dries up in portions of the year. Revais Creek appears to have these characteristics with a primarily gaining in the upper reaches and a losing stream for the lower 3 miles of the creek. This can be seen by comparing the two pictures shown here, one taken in the upper reach of the Creek and one taken in the lower reach of the Creek near the measuring point below Highway 200:
Revais Creek below Highway 200
Woody debris along the sides of the channel, and the size of boulders in the creek indicate that only high flows reach this lower section of the creek. Any water that flows down the creek, as in the upper photo, disappears into the ground before it ever reaches the lower end of the creek, where the CSKT proposed instream flow is supposed to be implemented.
Close examination of the second photograph showing the size of boulders and cobbles in the creek indicates that only high, or flood flows, make it all the way down to the Flathead River. Indeed, peak flow discharges for Revais Creek—the highest flow measured during the year, occur in May and June and range from 95 cubic feet per second up to 350 cubic feet per second. Aside from these flood flows, no streamflow makes it all the way to the Flathead River on the surface in Revais Creek. Geologic information indicates that the lower part of Revais Creek is indeed a ‘sink’, where most of the flow simply disappears underground and enters the Flathead River that way.
Irrigation out of Revais Creek occurs through the single canal diversion. Combined with the Jocko River, Revais Creek contributes to the irrigaton of considerable acreage in the valley. Notice that the stream on the right of the photo below drops down a steep, boulder-strewn course away from the diversion. This is clearly a ‘structural feature’ of the stream channel where it abruptly changes and is most likely a result of the underlying geology of the creek and the occurrence of faults. The fishery above this point is notable, written about, and historic. Below this point, there is no reported occurrence of a fishery.
The FIP Water Use Agreement proposes an instream flow in Revais Creek below the irrigation diversion to be measured at the staff gauge located right below where Highway 200 crosses the creek, in the area of large boulders and cobbles. The proposed instream flow varies from 3 to 9 cubic feet per second, the large values taking over in the fall. The problem, however, is that at the point of measurement, there are no data or history that show Revais Creek ever flows at this point except during a flood flow. During wet years, a short duration small trickle has been reported as late as July. Even if all the irrigation diversion was stopped, the 3-4 cubic feet per second that flows in the creek at the irrigation diversion will not make it all the way down to the Flathead River, which is the goal of putting an instream flow in the creek.
Indeed, technical discussions of a proposed flow regime on Revais Creek discussed by the Cooperative Management Entity (CME) yielded this critical information regarding the wisdom of an instream flow in lower Revais Creek:
Les Evarts said that in some instances, leaving water in canals may provide more benefits to fish than leaving water in some streams. On Revais creek in particular, Les said that fisheries would prefer to maintain diversions into the canal, in order to prevent native West slope Cutthroat trout from being drawn over the diversion, into a dry creek channel. (Minutes of the CME Meeting, January 2012)”
The proposed instream flow for Revais Creek is then about what? Fisheries protection? Not according to the above technical presentation. So why put an instream flow in a creek when it will disappear into a ‘dry creek channel’ and not do anything for fish? Is it revenge?
This study has shown that much more careful analysis must be completed before any new instream flows are called for in any creek on the reservation. For Revais Creek, the CSKT has been unable to show the veracity and validity of an instream flow in the lower part of the Creek. For many other streams on the reservation that already have instream flows, the CSKT and the United States have been unable to prove that more water is required.
Multi-generational Montanans who have irrigated this valley for 100 years deserve much more certainty than an arbitary instream flow established for a dry creek bed.