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Whitefish Lake water level nears historic low

by MATT BALDWIN
Daily Inter Lake | August 3, 2023 4:00 PM

People with large boats are advised to consider taking their vessels out of Whitefish Lake early this summer as the water level nears an all-time low.

Whitefish Lake’s water elevation on Thursday was at 2,996.47 feet, which is about 0.51 feet above the record low set in 1988, according to data provided by the Whitefish Lake Institute.

With the low water, public boat ramps at City Beach and Whitefish Lake State Park are approaching levels that are too shallow to launch or take out large vessels, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warned.

Carla Belski, with Whitefish Parks and Recreation, classified large boats as those over 20 feet, such as large pontoons and wakeboard boats.

She noted that two boats have gone off the ramp at the state park and one at City Beach already this summer.

“The boat ramps are getting shorter and shorter as the lake level falls,” she said.

“We’re giving people a heads up. Now might be the time [to take out larger boats].

People are discouraged from power loading boats, which damages boat ramps. Power loading involves using the boat motor to load a boat on a trailer, which can erode sediment and dig large, hazardous holes at the base of the ramp.

“Boat trailer wheels can unknowingly back into these holes and get stuck or cause damage to the trailer,” the FWP warned in a press release. “In extreme cases, the end of the ramp can collapse or shift into the hole, leaving the ramp unusable and causing the access to be closed.”

SEVERE DROUGHT conditions and earlier-than-normal spring runoffs have created below-average streamflows and lake levels across Northwest Montana.

Flathead Lake’s water level is about 2 feet lower than its full pool mark.

Whitefish Lake Institute Executive Director Mike Koopal noted that unlike Flathead Lake, Whitefish Lake is not dammed and can fluctuate by about 4 feet on any given year.

The bulk of the water inflow comes from Swift Creek at the head of the lake. Outflow is at the Whitefish River near City Beach.

While the city of Whitefish draws from the lake for drinking water, Koopal said it’s not a significant factor in the overall water level.

He said the Institute’s historical data shows a downward trend of low-water elevations.

The average low-water elevation in Whitefish Lake in the 1990s was 2,998.11 feet, compared to 2,998.10 feet in the 2000s, 2,9996.79 feet in the 2010s and 2,996.60 feet from 2020 to present.

“This year is showing the lowest June lake elevations on record,” Koopal said. “Unless we get significant rainfall and cooler temperatures, there is a high likelihood that we will break the lowest recorded lake elevation.”