Hydroelectric Safety

Dams provide many benefits. However, any water-based recreation near the dams has potential risks.
This page contains important safety measures that should be practiced when recreating near hydroelectric dams.

Our Montana Hydro Facilities

NorthWestern Energy owns and operates 11 hydroelectric plants in Montana. The foundation of our energy generation is our carbon-free hydro system that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Be Alert for Changing Water Levels

Water levels can fluctuate rapidly at all dams. Never take your boat over or under restrictive cables with
warning signs or boat restraining systems. Depending on maintenance schedules and periods of high river flow, boat restraining systems upriver of a dam may not be in place. Never boat alone.

The water below a dam can boil up and trap or capsize a boat in an instant. If you fish from a boat below a dam, always wear your life jacket and leave your engine running in case of an emergency. Anchoring below dams is dangerous and should never be done. Never fish alone.

Many rivers downstream can be waded even when electricity is generating, but an increase in generating load can cause a rise in the water that may become dangerous. A fall into cold water could cause shock or hypothermia. While wading, always wear your life jacket. If walking in the river channel, use a walking stick. Never wade or swim alone.

If caught in the water or swept off your feet:

  • Stay calm, lie on your back and don’t try to stand up
  • Drop any items that weigh you down
  • Keep feet up and pointed downstream to avoid hitting rocks and entrapments
  • Go with the current and move diagonally across the current until you reach shore
  • Roll onto dry land to drain boots or waders; don’t stand until the water is out of waders
  • If trapped on an island, signal for help; don’t risk crossing the river