Ackley Lake from the viewpoint of those who operate the lake

By: 
Chuck Thomas

I am writing this letter to state some facts from the group that operates the lake itself, the Ackley Lake Water Users Association.
We have 10 active members who irrigate with water stored in the lake, plus one member – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – that uses its water in the lake for fish and recreation. All members purchase water with Water Purchase Contracts with the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation. All members buy water based on an acre-foot basis. The cost is currently $6.50 per acre-foot. Of the total amount of water purchased each year, the irrigators buy 94 percent and the FWP buys about 6 percent.
FWP purchases 250 acre-feet of water a year for a total amount of $1,625 dollars per year. Their amount of water would cover 250 acres –about the surface area of Ackley – with one foot of water. Ouch. Wouldn’t that be tough to water ski, jet ski, swim, ice fish, etc., on?
The lake was built in 1936-37 as a Works Project, as an irrigation reservoir during the Depression. Recreation was never an objective, but has grown tremendously through the years. Today, recreation is a big, accepted part of the overall picture of Ackley Lake.
The recent development that FWP will defund Ackley and other Class 4 parks is very upsetting to the ALWUA. Mr. John Taillie, FWP Region 4 Parks Manager, stated in a recent article in the News-Argus that the State Parks board approved “Charting a New Tomorrow,” a plan for managing Montana’s 55 state parks. One goal of the plan, he said, is “to classify the parks in terms of significance, relevance and accessibility.”
Wow, does that open up a whole bunch of questions that I won’t go into at this time. I will pose the question though: Where did this originate from; did it come from our elected officials or from some unelected bureaucrat?
Here are some of the concerns of the irrigators (ALWUA):
Weeds. We are continually battling noxious weeds such as spotted knapweed, leafy spurge and many others that are showing up more and more at Ackley. Where do the weeds come from? They come from the vehicles of recreationists. We feel FWP has a big responsibility here to continue helping us in this war on weeds.
Every year we have an annual dam inspection done by the owner, DNRC, which is required by federal and state law. One of the main items we are told to correct are many potholes on the surface of the road on top of the dam. Where do the potholes come from? They come from the vehicles of recreationists as they cross from one side of the lake to the other. Again, we feel this is the responsibility of FWP.
The water for Ackley Lake comes from a diversion on the Judith River by means of a canal, which is about nine miles long. It requires continued maintenance. We maintain the canal, a lot of which is done by donated time and equipment from the 10 active irrigators. The only involvement of FWP is when we have a special assessment, which is not often. When we do, FWP’s contribution is 6 percent of the total amount.
Please don’t get me wrong. ALWUA is absolutely not against recreation at Ackley. When any of us go out to the lake on any given weekend, summer or winter (ice fishing), we see literally hundreds of folks having fun, and many vehicles of all types. We feel we help provide a wonderful recreation environment for our friends and neighbors of Central Montana and beyond. We feel pretty good about this. But we also feel FWP has a responsibility here on behalf of the recreating public that they represent.
But make no mistake about it. If FWP pulls out support for Ackley Lake, the possibility is very great that it will be closed to the public. Neither DNRC, the owner of the lake, or ALWUA, the operators of the lake, have any means to manage or accommodate recreation. This is just plain fact.

Chuck Thomas is a member of the Ackley Lake Water Users Association. He lives in Hobson.

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