BUTTE — The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has committed to funding the Basin Creek Watershed fuel mitigation project after 15 years.
Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher says thanks to the efforts of US Senator Jon Tester, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore has committed to funding the mitigation project later this year.
"We’ve been working extremely hard to make sure that everybody understands the dangers that we have and I don’t know if there’s many other places that have a municipal water source in such dire need because of the ongoing fire danger that we have," said Gallagher.
Sixty percent of Butte’s potable water comes from the Basin Creek Reservoir. The pipes in the water treatment plant help clean Butte’s drinking water, but if a wildfire were to happen near the reservoir, the pipes and the entire $30 million facility could be rendered unusable.
The buildup of ash and sediment that would run into the watershed could damage the pipes. Fixing the damage would take years and cost millions of dollars.
"It’s the most energy-efficient water supply that we have for the city, so the consequences of a major wildfire would be really dire," said Jim Keenan, Butte-Silver Bow water utility chief operator.
Butte-Silver Bow owns 370 acres in the whole watershed while the USFS owns the overwhelming majority of the 7,700 acres.
"To have [the project] kind of escalated to a national level where you’ve got the chief of the forest service and U.S. senators talking about the Basin Creek project—that’s pretty impressive," said Keenan.
Gallagher says that there is opportunity to use the dead trees being removed for biochar.
According to the USDA Agriculture Research Service, biochar is black carbon produced from wood chips, plant waste, or other agricultural waste products. Biochar is used as a soil supplement, having been practiced thousands of years ago in the Amazon basin.
"There could be different benefits to this but the number one is to just mitigate the fire danger up at Basin Creek Reservoir," said Gallagher.
You can learn more about the Basin Creek Reservoir and the mitigation project here.