Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project

Snow covers Hyalite Reservoir in the Gallatin National Forest on March 22, 2010. Bozeman receives 80 percent of its municipal water from both Hyalite and Bozeman Creeks; both drainages flowing into the city's water intakes will be part of the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project and subject to forest thinning and prescribed burning to mitigate potential water contamination from a large forest fire.

Thanks to Derek for these.

Here’s an editorial from the Bozeman Chronicle:

Editorial: Protecting Bozeman’s water supply is our best long-term plan

Posted: Sunday, January 22, 2012 12:00 am

Right on cue, a trio of environmental groups has again challenged a plan to protect the main Bozeman municipal water sources from catastrophic wildfire.

The plan calls for treating 4,800 acres of the Hyalite and Sourdough creek drainages with timber harvests, thinning and controlled burns to reduce the amount of potential fuel for a wildfire that will certainly burn through the area at some point in the future. A catastrophic fire in these drainages in their present condition would produce ash and silt and trigger erosion that could overwhelm the city’s water system.

Challenging the proposal for the third time, The Alliance for a Wild Rockies, the Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and the Native Ecosystem Council contend the plan will disrupt lynx and grizzly habitat and eliminate cover for elk.

Though it will probably fall on deaf ears, here’s a different argument to consider for abandoning this challenge:

People are moving to Montana. They are buying up what was once agricultural land and turning it into housing developments. Much of the open space we all value so much as part of our quality of life is being consumed in the process.

The best way to combat this trend is to concentrate this immigration of new Montanans as much as possible – in cities. Bozeman is the best location on the northwest corner of the Yellowstone ecosystem – among blue-ribbon trout rivers and in between major wilderness areas – to accommodate as much of this population growth as possible.

To do that, though, the city needs water. And protecting the city’s primary sources of potable water is one of the best ways to ensure that Bozeman can accommodate smart growth. If the environmental groups hamper the city’s ability to maintain and increase its water supply, they will be forcing new population out into the countryside where more valuable open space will be consumed.

Make no mistake: Montana’s population is going to grow, whether we like it or not. And it is incumbent upon the state’s cities to accommodate that growth by building up, not out.

Environmental groups can help the cities accomplish this by working with them – not against them – as they seek to responsibly protect and expand their municipal water supplies.

Here’s an article from earlier in the week.

Conservation groups challenge watershed plan for third time

CARLY FLANDRO, Chronicle Staff Writer | Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 12:15 am

Conservation groups on Tuesday challenged a proposed thinning and prescribed-burn project in forests south of Bozeman that aims to protect the city’s drinking water.

It’s the group’s third time challenging the proposal.

“Simply stated, the agency’s proposal breaks a number of laws and this time around is no different,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

The Gallatin National Forest’s plan, called the Bozeman Municipal Watershed project, calls for burning, harvesting and thinning 4,800 acres in the Hyalite and Bozeman Creek drainages. Those drainages supply more than 80 percent of the Bozeman community’s water, and thinning efforts there are intended to reduce the extent of any potential wildfires.

A severe wildfire could put so much sediment and ash in the creeks that the treatment plant couldn’t handle it and would have to shut down, according to Marna Daley, forest spokeswoman.

Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and Native Ecosystems Council joined the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in challenging the plan.

The groups say the project would log federally designated lynx critical habitat and core grizzly bear habitat, and that it would remove elk hiding cover and destroy habitat for other old-growth-dependent species. They also worry the logging and road building would add sediment to creeks containing the native westslope cutthroat trout, which is listed as a “species of special concern.”

“Those same creeks also supply Bozeman’s municipal water,” said Steve Kelly, a board member for two of the conservation groups. “The best thing we could do for wildlife, fish, opportunities for backcountry recreation and solitude, and our drinking-water supply, would be to back away from this foolish project and enjoy the forest’s many enduring gifts.”

Garrity also alleged that some areas affected by the plan have been inaccurately designated as wildland-urban interface zones.

Daley said she has not yet seen the challenge but said the Gallatin National Forest is committed to moving forward with the project.

“We’re very confident the decision is a good decision,” she said of the most recent proposal. “We look forward to moving toward the implementation of the project in the near future.”

Daley said the challenge will go to the regional forester for review, and he’ll decide in about six weeks whether to uphold the forest’s plan.

The city of Bozeman partnered with the Gallatin National Forest to produce the watershed plan.

It’s interesting to me that we’re only hearing one side of the story from the article..

For the curious, here’s the site of information on the project, including a video.

Here’s a part of the ROD about sedimentation

Sedimentation concerns from our actions or no action
The Forest fuels specialist and hydrologist modeled the current vegetative and fuels conditions in the two drainages, and showed that a wildfire in average humidity and wind conditions could generate an increase in sediment of 250% over natural conditions (FEIS, p 3-40). A wildfire in more extreme weather conditions could cause even higher increases in sedimentation. The City of Bozeman water treatment plant currently can handle only small increases in sediment and ash and certainly not levels modeled for a wildfire under moderate or more extreme conditions.
Our effects analysis also showed that the vegetation treatments in Alternative 6 could reduce potential fire size by 54% when a wildfire occurs in the project area (FEIS, p 2-29 and p 3-29). Further analysis showed that a 4,000 acre fire in the project area after implementation of Alternative 6 would likely increase sediment 30% above natural in the Hyalite Creek drainage, and increase sediment 54% above natural in the Bozeman Creek drainage. The same size fire without treatment would produce sediment increases of 56% and 105% in those same drainages, respectively (SFEIS p. 172). A 2,000 acre fire after implementation of Alternative 6 is predicted to increase sediment by 18% over natural in Hyalite Creek and 32% in Bozeman Creek versus 31% and 57%, respectively, without treatment. The Bozeman Municipal Water Treatment plant is challenged to efficiently treat water when sediment levels exceed even 30% over natural, so 50% or greater increases could result in multiple day reductions in plant efficiency. This analysis convinced me that Alternative 6 will be effective in meeting the purpose and need for the project, and that the no action alternative, is not acceptable when the drinking water of an entire community is at stake.

Maybe I’m missing something, but if seeking safe drinking water makes people “break laws”, then what would be the proposal to meet the purpose and need that would not “break laws”?; if there is no such proposal conceivable, then it would appear that something is wrong with our framework with laws and regulations (or case law)..

12 Comments

  1. I see no discussion regarding the risks of increased sedimentation or other nasty contaminants from the roads, heavy equipment, human waste, skid roads, etc that usually come with logging or thinning or prescribed fire. There is a risk. Doing nothing is a risk as well, but might be the least risky. Are they going to chopper log? Roads?
    Question: how many recent catastrophic fires have been started by prescribed burns gone wild? It sounds like the city of Bozeman needs to consider upgrading their filtration system to take care of these silt/sediment risks, regardless of whether they go ahead with this project.
    My experience with muni watersheds would lead me to say LEAVE IT ALONE.

    • Ed, there is an extended discussion of these topics in the SEIS pp 174-178. below is a snippet of the full discussion.

      Compliance with Applicable Water Quality Laws, Regulation, and Forest Plan Guidance
      Applicable water quality laws, regulations, and Forest Plan Guidance are detailed in the Affected Environment section. Alternative 6 meets all applicable water quality laws, regulations and Forest Plan Guidance for Bozeman Creek and Hyalite Creek. Leverich Creek complies for Alternatives 1, 4, 5, and 6 but not for Alternatives 2 and 3 due to exceedence of Gallatin NF sediment standards. Hyalite Creek currently meets Montana A-1 Classification standards and Bozeman Creek meets Montana A-Closed standards within the BMW project area. The BMW project would comply with Hyalite Creek and Bozeman Creek Clean Water Act standards. The Montana DEQ 2008 and 2010 303(d) and TMDL preparation process and status are also disclosed in detail in the Affected Environment section.
      Projected sediment level increases in Alternative 6 have been further mitigated to be very low and not readily measurable with conventional sediment measurement equipment. The maximum increase in Bozeman Creek sediment of 1.3% with maximum total increase of 4.7% over natural, maximum increase in Hyalite Creek, of 1.4% with maximum total increase of 4.9% over natural, and maximum increase in Leverich Creek, of 1.3% with maximum total increase of 5.7% over natural are well within compliance with the Gallatin NF 30% over natural standard for municipal watersheds or sensitive streams.

  2. Excelent. Thank you Alliance for Wild Rockies. Everything is going according to plan.

    This is another fine example of “moderate enviros” having their wishes thwarted by their more “radical” brethren. Bozeman is about as green as it comes (see past posting about Wilderness Society employees living in Bozeman). The Bozeman Chronicle editorial board is not know for being right wing tea baggers. The scoping for this project began in 2006.

    The best hope for reforming NEPA will come when Bozeman’s watershed is cooked off, or Santa Fe’s, or Albuquerque, or Denver’s. When the next fire cooks off some more of Lake Tahoe, even Harry Reid will introduce legislation to exempt healthy forest timber slaes from litigation. Does anyone know of one “State” timber sale that was ever stopped through litigation? The enabling legislation just isn’t there. If it’s about “following the law”, then change the law.

  3. Thanks Smithy. Someday I’m going to do a story called “A tale of two timber sales” comparing the USFS Bozeman Watershed to the DNRC Bear Canyon sale. I don’t know why the GAO doesn’t do a study on the two? I do believe the state got paid $100/thousand board foot for stumpage-which I think came out to $800/acre. Not bad coin for the middle of the great recession- especially when considering the “no bid” on the Bitteroot. Also not bad considering the Colorado USFS has to PAY $1000/acre(they should have raised Colorado’s property tax to pay for that-call it adopt a clearcut!). Both log MPB killed trees (bear has a lot of doug fir too).

    It’s also interesting that the divide between Hyalite creek and Bozeman creek was heavily clearcut in the good ol days of the 1960′s thru 1990′s(railroad sections ya know). I’m not aware that mass wasting of logging sediment fouled Bozeman’s water treatment plant at that time(of course it didn’t). The regen clearcuts are probably what will save Bozemans watershed someday-some of the best “clearcuts don’t burn” photos I got were on the “Derby” fire five miles southwest of town. That fire, which was blowing from the southwest, was stopped cold on it’s east boundary by a line of old “plum creek” clearcuts (covered by trees of course).

    It’s also interesting to note that this last summer, Albuquerque had to stop using “surface water” for it’s municipal needs for somewhere around a couple months because of ash from the Cierra fire. That fire wasn’t even in the citys primary watershed, but only a tributary to the conveying river.

    • Derek,

      You’re pretty much spot on! $117/mbf using a 6.7 tons/mbf conversion. Considering that they are logging approx. 4.9 mmbf off 674 acres or 7.4 mbf/acre yields $865/acre.

      Now who is saying there isn’t a market?

  4. Missing from the quoted analysis is the probability and character of sediment impacts from logging versus fire. Sediment from logging and roads is virtually certain and tend sot be chronic (fuels treatments can’t be “one and done.” they require repeat entries with a permanent road system), whereas fire-generated sediment is episodic, usually delivered along with enhanced woody structures, and fish evolved to deal with that.

    • No mention of hydrophobicity, Tree? Both low intensity logging and cool wildfires doesn’t add hydrophobicity or much soil disturbance to forest soils. Today’s high intensity wildfires do MUCH more damage than commercial fuels projects. Fish cannot deal with 150,000 cubic yards of fire-caused landslide, like the one that dammed up the north fork of the Boise River, in 1995. Also very damaging is the loss of soil nutrients and organic matter. Soils can take decades to recover from these catastrophic wildfires.

      Most timber sales fix and maintain roads, as part of specified work, paid for with trees. Roads don’t fix themselves, as we have clearly seen in the last 10 years. I’m not a fan of new roads but, we still need to maintain much of what currently exists. Yes, there ARE “bad” roads out there we don’t really need.

      Clearly, the claims that today’s wildfires are “natural and beneficial” are the epitome of “anecdotal evidence” you seem so concerned about, Tree. Where are those “benefits” from high-intensity wildfires? Where do they offset the impacts? What about the carbon footprint of 25 million acres of dead public forest lands dedicated for wildfires?

      • Study looks at fish recovery after forest fires
        By LAURA LUNDQUIST – Ravalli Republic
        January 17, 2012

        Destruction seems to dominate in the wake of forest fires, but with time the restorative power of fire in the Intermountain West is revealed.

        On Thursday, fisheries biologist Michael Jakober will present yet one more scientific study showing that not only does nature bounce back after a wildfire but it can return to a better state. In this case, the animals doing the bouncing are trout.

        Jakober’s talk, “Fish and fires: You can burn us but we’ll be back,” uses more than a decade’s worth of data to show that some trout have come back stronger than ever in streams of areas that were blackened by the fires of 2000.

        The streams in Jakober’s study are all on Forest Service land so he doesn’t have to consider the added stream degradation that can accompany civilization. So the main detrimental effect on the fish in his 20 streams was due to fire.

        Not surprisingly, fish did suffer immediately following the fires. But in the subsequent decade, a number of habitat changes emerged that resulted in the growth of healthy trout populations.

        “The stream areas became a lot more complex in the moderate- and severely-burned areas,” Jakober said. “Now there’s tons of large woody material in the streams that cause the scouring of pools. You really notice it if you go out and try to walk it.”

        Jakober said the new shrubs and small trees along the stream banks add high-quality cover and nutrients for fish. Fingerlings and small fish are dependant on such hiding places for survival.

        The severely-burned areas showed the only slight drawback of fire: The complete loss of large trees allows streams to heat up a little more than those with better shade.

        “The shade from streamside vegetation is not as effective,” Jakober said. “We see greater water temperature increases than in other streams but not that much.”

        Higher water temperature may be enough to affect bull trout, a species specialized for cold mountain streams, but Jakober said he didn’t find enough bull trout to know. Bull trout populations have always been low to nonexistent in his study streams, even before the fires, so he can’t draw any conclusion about their resilience. Non-native brook trout are also fortunately rare.

        But westslope cutthroat populations are thriving, Jakober said. Part of that is because they’re native – they evolved ways to survive locally as a species.

        “They’re adapted to fire,” he said.

        The 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park prompted several studies that reached the same conclusions: fires clear out areas choked by half a century of fire suppression and allow for recovery to a healthy natural system.

        The Forest Service got a good start on the post-fire research when Montana State University graduate student Clint Sestrich conducted a three-year study of the Bitterroot streams and their inhabitants starting in 2001. Sestrich’s results were published last year in the scientific journal, “Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.”

        “He left us a good strong dataset,” Jakober said. “Since then, we’ve been monitoring a subset of those streams. We try to hit each one at least every five years.”

        Jakober plans to continue monitoring for at least another 50 years, if not 100, because that’s how long it could take for the severely-burned areas to fully recover.

        “They may never return completely because there’s so many variables,” Jakober said. “And now with climate change, it’s hard to say.”

        Michael Jakober will speak Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Hamilton Elks Lodge, 203 State St., sponsored by Bitterroot Trout Unlimited.

        • Matthew, I think the situation depends a lot on the soil, precipitation, severity, acres, etc.

          The article says at the end..

          Jakober plans to continue monitoring for at least another 50 years, if not 100, because that’s how long it could take for the severely-burned areas to fully recover.

          “They may never return completely because there’s so many variables,” Jakober said. “And now with climate change, it’s hard to say.”

          Let’s do a thought experiment … if we did something (say established a hydro dam for green energy with a 20 year life span to tide us over before we have a solar/wind economy) and said “it’s OK because the fishing opportunities will come back in 20-50 years or so, just in time for my granddaughter’s outfitter guide business”, I think you would say that is not a good thing- neither socially, economically, nor to the fish. But maybe not.

    • Tree- sediment from forest fires can be bad for fish.. and wipe out fish populations. I couldn’t lay my hands on any photos this morning easily but these fishing people seem to be telling the story..

      http://coloradoflyfisher.blogspot.com/2011/06/south-river-is-amazing-fishery-with.html
      Also there is plenty of discussion in the SEIS as I noted above (too many pages to copy into this comment) about expected sediment and the variety of BMPs and other mitigations to reduce sediment. Forest fires don’t have a lot of BMP’s goin’ on.

  5. I helped write the administrative appeal for the enviro groups on the first round of this. We won on soils issues. I submitted a FOIA request for the project record on the BMW project back in 2010.

    Here is language from the agency’s hydrologist that I found in an internal document:

    The BMW implemented assumes that the BMW treated acres are totally within
    the wildfire area so the reduced %>natural figures are probably an over estimation of potential sediment reduction since the wildfires would burn areas outside of BMW treatment boundaries and not all areas within BMW treatment areas would be subjected to wildfire.

    Bottom line is that the BMW project, if fully implemented, could result in a modest reduction in sediment yields from a moderate to large size wildfire in either watershed. Since the sediment standard is 30% over natural for each drainage the resulting sediment yields would still be well over standard and pose a challenge to the Bozeman Municipal Water Treatment Plant.

    Mark T. Story
    Hydrologist
    Gallatin National Forest
    PO 130 Bozeman, Mt
    59771
    406-587-6735
    mtstory@fs.fed.us

    This project is particularly troubling for me because it is nearly adjacent to my home, which is in Cottonwood Canyon, the drainage west of Hyalite. The agency is seeking to log in Cottowood. How is sediment going to be reduced by logging in a different drainage that is six miles away from a reservoir? I bowhunt for deer and elk in the Cottonwood side of the project area. This project will destroy my hunting grounds.

    I took photos of the project area, approximately six miles away from the drainage in the Cottonwood side. The photos are on our website: http://cottonwoodlaw.org/work.html

    Finally, The Wilderness Society submitted comments against this project years ago. They had a former UM soil scientist working for them that heavily criticized the project. They just aren’t talking about it now because it would be politically unpopular and they are worried about funding.

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