Public comment sought on Basin Creek – Butte Watershed Project
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: December 16, 2022
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is seeking public comments on the Basin Creek – Butte Watershed Project. The project area is located on National Forest Service System lands 12 miles south of Butte, Montana and encompasses the Basin Creek Municipal Watershed.
The Basin Creek Watershed provides up to nearly 60% of the City of Butte’s municipal water supply, supporting over 34,200 residents. This landscape has had restrictions on public access and activities in place to safeguard the water quality in this municipal watershed. In the 2000s, the trees in the project area were significantly affected by beetle kill.
Lack of vegetation treatments as well as beetle-killed trees in the watershed has resulted in large amounts of tree mortality. Much of the area has substantial hazardous fuels build-up that poses a real risk to the city’s water source should a wildland fire occur in the watershed area. This build-up of dead trees (fuel loading) can lead to high severity fire, which in turn may result in a loss of soil stability and ultimately significant levels of soil erosion and run-off. A single storm event could introduce large amounts of soil and woody debris from fire affected areas to the watershed, delivering large sediment loads to the reservoirs that would essentially result in having to take the water treatment plant offline.
Jim Keenan, Chief Operator of the Butte-Silver Bow Water Utility, has been an integral partner in the development and planning of this project.
“It is very critical that the fuels situation in the Basin Creek Municipal Watershed is addressed as soon as possible. High quality, reliable drinking water is the lifeblood of our community, and the Basin Creek Water Supply is Butte’s most economical, most productive, and highest quality drinking water source. Given the immense quantity of beetle-killed lodgepole pine in the watershed along with the steep slopes and erodible granitic soils, our concern is that a high severity wildfire in the watershed could render the Basin Creek Municipal Water Supply (and recently constructed $30M Basin Creek Water Treatment Plant) unusable for up to a decade, maybe longer. Further, costs associated with recovery of reservoir storage and infrastructure repair and replacement could run into the tens of millions of dollars. For the good of our community, it is imperative that the Basin Creek—Butte Watershed Project proceed without delay,” said Keenan.
The purpose of this project is to protect the Basin Creek Municipal Watershed. By reducing fuels that could result in severe wildfire on the National Forest lands within the municipal watershed, treatments will help maintain a high-quality, long term, water supply for Butte area residents. The project proposes vegetation treatments on 2,424 acres utilizing off-road, hand-work, and mechanical equipment. Vegetation treatments are also proposed in the inventoried roadless area. No new permanent roads are planned. Alternative vegetation removal methods, such as a log forwarder or helicopter are also being considered. Due to the urgency of this project, emergency authorities are being considered.
For more information on the project, including maps and how to comment, please visit the project website at: Or contact the Butte Ranger District, and (406) 494-2147.
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