NBC Montana: Funding secured for Basin Creek Watershed fuel mitigation

by NBC Montana Staff

MISSOULA, Mont. – A fuel mitigation project in the Basin Creek Watershed will help reduce beetle-killed pine trees near the Basin Creek Reservoir.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester secured U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore’s commitment to funding the project later this year.

The Basin Creek Watershed produces 60% of Butte’s clean drinking water. Officials say a forest fire in the area could be devastating.

Butte-Silver Bow issued the following press release:

During an exchange in the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Interior with U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief, Randy Moore, Senator Tester secured Chief Moore’s commitment to funding the Basin Creek Watershed fuel mitigation project later this year.

Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher said, “I was able to talk to Senator Tester last Friday about how important this project is to BSB and protecting this essential water source. “He was able to get the Forest Service Chief to commit to funding the forest fire mitigation clearing project around Basin Creek Reservoir.”

“I want to talk to you a little bit about the Butte Basin Creek Watershed,” said Tester. “…What this area is, is the water supply for-some would argue-the greatest city in America: Butte, America. Because of climate change and beetle kill, there’s a ton of dead trees that are in this drainage that supplies this city with water, okay?…What I want from you today as the [Chief] of the Forest Service-I talked to the Chief Executive of Butte-Silver Bow last week, and he said, ‘We need somebody out here from the Forest Service who can look at this, so I can explain to them what needs to be done so we can get this cleaned up.'”

Tester continued, “This is going to be cleaning up a watershed that’s really, really important for this region. And if I could get somebody who is of consequence [to go out to Butte], somebody that you trust who could actually make a difference, I would be very grateful for that. That would be something that would be good.”

“I know a little bit about that project, and in fact, it’s one of the projects that we’re going to be funding this year, and so you should be seeing some activity taking place this year on that particular project,” responded Chief Moore.

“Well, and just so you know, and I know you know this, I had a debate in Butte in 2006 and this issue was brought up,” Tester concluded. “This is 15 years old, and we need to really get on it.

We do.” Chief Executive Gallager stated, “Without fuel mitigation, the ramifications of a forest fire on the watershed and the $30 million dollar water treatment plant would be devastating to Butte and the surrounding forest area.” Gallagher continued, “After 15 years of waiting, we are thankful for the advocacy and support of Senator Tester in finally securing this crucial investment in our watershed.”

The Basin Creek Watershed is vital to producing 60 percent of Butte’s clean drinking water. In the early 2000’s, the entire Basin Creek Watershed was impacted by the mountain pine beetle which led to the death of tens of thousands of mature pine trees around the Basin Creek Reservoirs. As the trees in the watershed began to die, the concentration of organic matter in the water increased and reacted with the chlorine disinfectant and created dangerous levels of regulated disinfection by-products known as Haloacetic Acids. This prompted the construction of the new water treatment plant that came online in 2017. Since then, the condition of the watershed has rapidly deteriorated, creating a significant threat to the watershed and infrastructure in the event of a forest fire or significant storm. A forest fire would cause significant levels of soil erosion, ash, nutrient-loading, and run-off to be deposited into the watershed. A significant storm could flood the watershed with large amounts of soil, woody debris, sediment loads and contamination that would render the water treatment plant inoperable.

For more information on the Basin Creek Watershed Fuel Mitigation project, please go to the Butte-Silver Bow YouTube and watch the video.

For more information, please contact Lyndsay Alt at lalt@bsb.mt.gov or call 406-497-6442.