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  Comments (2) Total Sunday Apr. 20, 2014
Fish Passage Might Be Added to Flower Creek Dam Project
Libby reluctantly approves feasibility study to install passage at new dam
The Flower Creek Dam near Libby is seen in November, 2010. The dam will be replaced in 2014. | Photo courtesy of Morrison-Maierle, Inc.
The Libby City Council has reluctantly approved a $26,000 feasibility study that would determine if a bull trout fish passage should be installed at the Flower Creek Dam site. The city risked losing federal funding for the critical dam project if it did not pay for the study, which drew ire from Mayor Doug Roll.

For the past few years, the city has been trying to replace the Flower Creek Dam, which was built in 1946 and holds the city’s drinking water. A new, $8 million dam has been designed and would take two years to complete. It will likely be funded by grants and loans from USDA Rural Development. The dam replacement project is part of a $12.4 million water system improvement project the city began last year.

Construction was expected to begin in 2013, but was delayed after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rescinded a 2012 comment on the project and asked that a biological assessment of the local grizzly bear, Canada lynx and bull trout populations be completed before the project moves forward.

The assessment was released last year and it stated that the city should complete a study to determine if it’s feasible to build a fish passage around the lower diversion dam downstream from the current and future dams. According to the USDA Rural Development’s Dan Johnson, the diversion dam is where water is filtered into the city water system.

“It is currently unknown whether providing fish passage can help recover bull trout in this watershed because little is known about the current population levels, life history forms, distribution, and movement patterns,” the USFWS assessment states. “Assuming this migration is occurring, providing fish passage at the lower water diversion dam would open access to one mile of good spawning and rearing habitat.”

Soon after the assessment was released, the City of Libby sent a letter protesting the need for a $26,000 feasibility study. However, the USDA’s Johnson said if it wasn’t completed, the Flower Creek Dam project would fail to comply with the Endangered Species Act and thus unable to receive federal funds. The city then rescinded its protest and unanimously voted to pay for the study.

“We had a gun to our head and we had to do it,” Mayor Roll said. “We don’t think it’s a good way to spend taxpayer money. It’s a fish passage to nowhere, sort of like the bridge to nowhere.”

Now that the study is approved, Roll said the city hopes to start construction on the new dam this year. Previously, Roll said the construction delays are putting Libby’s residents at risk.

In 2010, engineers with Morrison-Maierle completed a core sample test of the arch dam and found that the concrete strength was less than 1,000 pounds per square inch. Normal strength is between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds per square inch. A report, issued by Morrison-Maierle in September 2011, stated that under normal conditions the dam would be usable for another five years. If a seismic event compromised the dam, Flower Creek and Libby could be flooded. In 2012, Lincoln County installed a new sensor and alert system at the dam. If there were a sudden drop in water behind the dam, 911 dispatchers would be notified and could view images of the site to decide if a siren should be sounded in the city.
On 02-03-14, jr2jr2000 commented....
Wake up Libby and Lincoln County.  Wake up Montana.  The ESA and the CSKT Tribe will use the bull trout to control most every drop of water in Western Montana before it is all said and done.  Have you been following the water grab the CSKT…
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