The Gallatin National Forest’s Bozeman Watershed Logging Project has been the subject of much debate and commenting here at the blog. Well, it appears as if the next chapter of the story has been written, as the Bozeman Daily Chronicle took another look at the issue in this morning’s paper. Excerpts from the article are highlighted below [emphasis added]:
This summer’s Millie fire prompted renewed calls for thinning the forests south of Bozeman to protect the city’s water supply from fire. However, upgrades to the water plant are nullifying the argument that the water supply needs protection. The Bozeman water plant’s antiquated filtration system, built in 1984, couldn’t filter much more sediment than what is carried by the streams on a normal day. Any increase in the amount of sediment in Bozeman or Hyalite creeks was a source of concern.
But that will change when a new $43 million system comes online in a little more than a year, said water treatment supervisor Rick Moroney. Construction started a year ago. “It adds an important extra step – sedimentation – which makes it vastly superior,” Moroney said. “I can’t guarantee it could handle everything, but it will be able to handle the sediment from a fire.”
The new facility removes the urgency from one side’s argument in what is now a 2-year-old battle over a forest-thinning project.
In March 2010, the Gallatin National Forest published its Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project, a plan devised with the city to harvest, thin and burn 4,800 acres in the Hyalite and Bozeman creek watersheds.
The $2 million project had the stated objective of protecting the watersheds that provide 80 percent of the city’s summer water supply from being polluted after a severe fire. But wildfire doesn’t pose the only risk to water quality.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council opposed the project because more than seven miles of new logging roads would be required, and such roads can add as much sediment to area streams as a fire….
Hydrologist Mark Story said decades of research show roads are responsible for 90 percent of the sediment produced during logging. The groups argued thinning wouldn’t prevent a wildfire, which would add still more sediment. “There’s no science that will fireproof a watershed,” said Michael Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “We have no problem with thinning as long as they can do it without building roads that are just as bad for the watershed.”