Missoula will use partnership to remove old Rattlesnake Creek Da - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Missoula will use partnership to remove old Rattlesnake Creek Dam

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MISSOULA - It's an icon of Missoula's original water system but nowadays it's only blocking important fish habitat.

The City of Missoula is expected to accept an offer from Trout Unlimited to help remove the old dam on Rattlesnake Creek, which hasn't provided water to the city in over three decades. 

The Lower Rattlesnake Creek Dam was erected in the early 1900s when city leaders determined they needed a better way to manage one of the primary water supplies for the growing city. 

But that was a long time ago. And the dam -- and catchment basin behind it -- are really showing their age. In fact, they haven't been used for the water supply since some people got deathly sick.

"Back in the early days, it did have a key roll in supplying water for the city. It did. But unfortunately like I said, in 1983 they had the Giardia outbreak. And at the time the owner of the company," Missoula Water Superintendent Dennis Bowman said. "The Wheeler family decided not to even use it anymore and basically take some of the water rights out of the creek and put some additional wells in."

The hollow-core dam crosses the stream right where fish should be migrating. Some make it around using a fish ladder installed in 2003, and there are fish in the pond -- but it's not an ideal situation. 

Now that Missoula owns the water system, it can consider an offer from Trout Unlimited and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to remove the old dam and restore the stream.

"Environmentally, and in terms I think from what I'm hearing, financially it makes sense to remove the dam. It will provide a huge benefit to the Clark Fork and the Rattlesnake Creek fishery, FWP fisheries biologist Ladd Knotek said. "And basically just allowing fish to move up and down the way they naturally would."

Tuesday, city leaders gathered on site to explain the project, which will not only remove the dam but could provide additional park and recreation opportunities -- including room for a trail on the narrow section of Rattlesnake Drive. 

But the first step is to have engineers figure out exactly what can be done…

"We don't want to have a contractor come in here and just starting ripping out the dam. Because you don't know whether that wall on the east sides going to fall down or the one on the west side is going to fall down. Or the wall in the pond's going to fall down. We have to do some research and stuff and see and make sure it's done correctly," Bowman said.

The city estimates removing the old dam will also save the city upwards of $500,000 in operating costs. 

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