Tester Secures Forest Service Chief Commitment for Investment in Basin Creek Watershed Near Butte This Year
Basin Creek Watershed provides drinking water to about 60 percent of Butte’s population
U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured a commitment from U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Randy Moore that the USFS would begin funding treatment efforts in the Basin Creek Watershed near Butte later this year during a hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior.
“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-Silverbow 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.”
The Basin Creek Watershed provides drinking water to about 60 percent of Butte’s population, and while the USFS has repeatedly proposed treatment projects in the watersheds over the last two decades, it has not followed through. Butte has installed a $30 million water treatment plant to address nutrient-loading from beetle-killed trees in the watershed, but the ash and sediment in the wake of a largescale fire would easily outpace the plant’s treatment capacity.
Ensuring the Forest Service completes work on the Basin Creek Watershed project has been one of Senator Tester’s top priorities for more than a decade. Last November, Tester wrote the USFS and highlighted the need for restoration work in the area. The Forest Service responded, indicating that they planned to treat about 700 acres in the watershed this summer, and that they were still in talks with Butte-Silver Bow about the need for a larger, more holistic project. Tester’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $500 million for hazardous fuels reductions in National Forests, and $180 million for the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Program to reduce wildfire risk in municipal watersheds like Basin Creek. Forest Service has also announced its intent to use IIJA funding for hazardous treatment work on 10 other landscapes nationwide, including the Kootenai. Tester recently announced the USFS planned to treat 7200 acres over the next five years.