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Screens Set in Place to Save Fish on Yellowstone

July 2013

Fish screens are lifted onto concrete supports.

Fish screens are lifted onto concrete supports.

In late June, a crane hoisted the huge fish screens into place at the head of the Buffalo Rapids Irrigation District’s Shirley pump plant, about 20 miles east of Miles City. Each rectangular screen weighs 10 tons and is 10 feet wide by 37 feet high. The tracked screen itself is a 67-foot moving loop.

The structures were lifted by a crane into specially made concrete support forms. Once hooked up, five-horsepower electric motors will slowly move the tracked screen at 5 to 10 feet per minute, lifting fish, tree limbs, and moss out of the intake. On the back side of the screens, high-pressure jets spray water into the screen’s cups and flush fish and debris into a trough. From there, the fish and debris are floated back into the river by a sluice.

The Shirley pump station, built in the 1940s, feeds water to about 100 irrigators who own about 11,300 acres of sugar beets, corn, alfalfa, and small grains. At peak operation, the pumping station feeds 135 cubic feet per second of river water into the canal system. The screens will be removed from the river each fall to avoid damage from winter ice jams.

The screens were made by New Orleans-based Hydrolox and cost about $150,000 apiece. Funding for the project came from NRCS’ Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Passage Program, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Buffalo Rapids Irrigation District, and the state of Montana.