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Protecting the Flower Creek watershed

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | May 4, 2021 7:00 AM

After months of site visits, meetings and drafting, officials have completed a much-needed protection plan for Libby’s water source.

Kristi Kline, the source water specialist with Nonprofit Montana Rural Water Systems who pieced together the plan, has stressed that without the Flower Creek watershed, there is no City of Libby. The reservoir is currently the municipality’s only viable water source as former milling operations have contaminated local groundwater.

Along with the city, the Kootenai Nordic Club, U.S. Forest Service and Montana Department of Natural Resources are considered stakeholders in the plan due to the proximity of their lands or operations to the watershed.

While the protection roadmap has officially graduated from the draft phase, Kline said the document will evolve as stakeholders complete projects. Each of these projects is designed to address the plan’s primary objectives: mitigating runoff, erosion and wildfire risks near the watershed.

To iron out the plan’s timeline, city councilors met with representatives from the nordic club on April 21.

Atop the group’s list of objectives is the completion of a watershed hydrology study on runoff patterns.

“It's the thing on which a lot of other decisions are based,” said City Councilor Peggy Williams.

Kenny Rayome, water treatment plant operator, said stakeholders were primarily interested in any sources of runoff within a half-mile radius from the watershed or within four hours of travel time from the treatment plant via the water flow from the reservoir. Jennifer Nelson, county forester, said the hydrology study area could be expanded to include flow from the top of the ridgeline.

The group designated the hydrology study as a near term objective, meaning stakeholders aim to tackle it within the coming year.

The development of a drawdown plan, or guide for reducing the water level of the reservoir, is another objective city officials would like to soon complete. Rayome said he gathered data last year that would help inform the plan, but wanted more time to collect additional information.

Mayor Brent Teske said work on implementing erosion controls on an access road near the watershed was underway and would likely be done by this fall. The group put down the evaluation of a proposed parking lot in the area as another near-term goal.

Roadwork along Flower Creek Road, undertaken by the city, the Lincoln County Road Department and an engineer contracted by the city, would be completed within the next couple weeks. Teske said a project to pave the road would be addressed in the mid term, or within three years.

Stakeholders chalked up the submission of a year-round operational master plan for review by the city council, the development of site maps and the evaluation of culvert systems in the area as near term goals.

The plan calls for the continuous monitoring of the impacts of logging operations, road travel and fire fuel buildup on the watershed. Stakeholders are working to install remote weather stations, security infrastructure, and other equipment for gathering data near the reservoir.

To keep stakeholders on the same page, representatives from the nordic club planned to file updates on their share of the work with City Administrator Jim Hammonds. City Councilor Kristin Smith said the council could then review the changes on an annual or biannual basis and make amendments to the plan.