Montana River Flow. Know When It’s Dangerous.
And just like that, it is time for floating season here in Montana. I have a favorite river that I have to keep my eye on. This river gives you a small window of opportunity to float. Some year it's the end of May and one time I was able to float over 4th of July weekend. It's all up to Mother Nature.
This little gem of information I am going to share with you is mainly for people that don't float that often, or maybe you are just starting to float.
CFS - Know it!
CFS, cubic feet per second. This is a measurement of moving water. This number will tell you the volume and speed of the water flow.
Always check the CFS before floating any river. You never know what is happening upriver that can affect the CFS down river. Sometimes they hold back water in dams to drop the water level, and this will affect the CFS down river for as long as the river flows.
Find Current River Conditions
There are a few different places to find the current river flow for a river, and this is the one I use, USGS Current Conditions for Montana. You will then click on "Current Streamflow Conditions Table" and then you should see a long list of rivers. Find your river. Be sure to find the closest reading to the stretch of river you plan to float. For example, there are many different reading sites for the Missouri River. Find the site closest to your float.
Click your river, and then you will want to click "Legacy Realtime Page" and this is where you will find the CFS.
This river's CFS is 758. We can also see the median flow 568 to 845. Minimum was 150 in 1961 and maximum was a whopping 4860 in 2018.
Water Level Can Change Quickly
Take a look at this graph, and this will be displayed for you right under the Daily Discharge graph. Water level can change fast.
This river above rose almost 2 feet in a single day. Must have been the snow we got last week. Know you know where to go to find the current CFS of any Montana river.
One more piece of advice is to ask a local. Each river is different. You can get great information by chatting with the locals. You can get great tidbits from fellow floaters by hanging out at the boat launch.
Have a safe and happy floating season! Stay safe!