GREAT FALLS (AP) - Low water means people who float the Smith River may find their rafts dragging on the river's rocky bottom.
Floating the Smith is so popular that state permits are required, in an effort to prevent crowding.
Runoff peaked at the end of April and river managers are advising floaters to call ahead before launching. Flow on the Smith was 155 cubic feet per second Friday. The normal flow at this time in May is about 394 cfs.
When the flow falls below 350 cfs, the river becomes difficult for users of drift boats. At 250 cfs, rafts begin to drag on the bottom and at 150 cfs, canoes may run aground.
"These flows are just recommendations and do not mean people will not have problems with flows above these recommendations," said Joe O'Neill, river manager for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "We do not stop people from floating the river unless we have a closure due to fire danger, such as last year."
Typically at the end of May, runoff on the 125-mile river still is being fed by melting snow in the Little Belt Mountains. From this point forward, however, flows will depend on rainfall, he said.
Runoff peaked in late April at around 497 cfs. The river began to drop and peaked again at about 386 cfs on May 15.
Lynda Payne, who floated the river Sunday to Wednesday, said flows were good when her party launched but conditions were tough. The canoeists paddled in sleet, snow and cold. The improving weather caused flows to fall, and Payne said they were noticeably lower Wednesday.
Flows on the Smith were critically low last summer. In mid-August they averaged 40-50 cfs near Camp Baker.