Unusual alliances give dams upgrades

Conservationists, farmers and governments work together so that everyone benefits.

By Mark Jaffe The Denver Post

When the 70-year-old Ruby Reservoir dam in southwestern Montana was seeping and needed a $12 million upgrade, it found an unexpected backer — Trout Unlimited.

Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited are usually opponents of irrigation dams, which help farmers and block the free flow of rivers.

But in the case of the Ruby dam — and similar projects across the West — conservation groups are helping to finance dam rehabilitation with an environmental component.

In Colorado, the Nature Conservancy helped obtain $13.2 million for the Elkhead Reservoir on the Yampa River. In Idaho, Trout Unlimited obtained a $375,000 grant for conservation measures for a dam project on the Snake River.

"We are trying to get out of the fish vs. farmer box," said Laura Ziemer, director of Trout Unlimited's Montana water project.