Minutes Musselshell Watershed Coalition Meeting
September 11, 2019
August 13, 2019
Present: Bill Milton, Facilitator, Laura Nowlin, Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator; Wendy Beye, MWC Scribe; Craig Dalgarno, Upper Musselshell Water Users Association; Lynn Rettig, Delphia-Melstone Canal Water Users Association; Leon Hammond, Deadman’s Basin Water Users Association; Diane Ahlgren, Mosby-Musselshell Watershed Group; Wendy Jones, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Administrator; Shirley Parrott, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Supervisor; Dusty Olson, Garfield County Conservation District; Casey Gallagher, Missouri River Conservation District Council; Meriel Beck, Musselshell/Golden Valley Weed Coordinator; Gary Olson, Wheatland County Weed Coordinator; Jennifer Fosjord, Musselshell/Golden Valley County Extension Agent; Nicole Borner, Musselshell County Commissioner; Floyd Fisher, Musselshell County DES Coordinator; Tom Stockert, Musselshell County Road Supervisor; Mark Werley, Big Sky Watershed Corps, Winnett; Mitch Hoffman, Big Sky Watershed Corps, Winnett; Scott Graham, Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality; Michael Downey, Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation; David Larson, Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation; Clint Smith, Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; Bryan Giordano, Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; Catherine Wightman, Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; Austin Shero, NRCS Roundup Field Office; Terry Heck, NRCS; Cari Ostberg, NRCS; Lorna Philp, NRCS Miles City Office; Ann Fischer, NRCS Baker Field Office; Keri Bilbo, NRCS Bozeman Field Office; Hayden Nelson, NRCS Partner; Michelle Blegen, USDA Farm Services Administration; Arin Peters, NOAA Weather Service; Tory Kolkhorst, Senator Daines Office; Shane Moe, Rancher; Jon Goffena, Rancher; Dan Casey, Northern Great Plains Joint Venture; Tammy VerCauteren, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies; Claire Hood, World Wildlife Fund; Cole Mannix, Western Landowners Alliance; Melissa Petrich, Montana Wildlife Foundation; Colette LeMieux, Pioneer Technical; Murray Strong, Pioneer Technical;
Facilitator Bill Milton called the meeting to order at 12:02 p.m
Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator Report:
Laura Nowlin reported that the River Assessment Triage Team has completed assessments of damage from the 2018 flood and made site recommendation to the ranchers who participated in the project. The final report has been printed and will be available online at the MWC website. Aquatic Invasive Species grant funding will pay for monitoring kits as well as continued education and outreach. A draft strategic plan is in process for the Cooperative Weed Management Area. Montana Conservation Corps members are working on salt cedar control in the northeast corner of Fergus County. Salinity monitoring showed relatively low concentrations of salt in the Musselshell this year, with good flows because of extra precipitation. MWC submitted a nomination for Bill and Dana Milton for the 2019 Montana Leopold Award. A selection has not yet been made.
Laura presented Bill Milton with a framed photograph of the Musselshell River in full flood, along with a thank you for all the work he has done for the Coalition.
• Craig Dalgarno Upper Musselshell Water Users Association Manager said Bair Reservoir is at
96% capacity and Martinsdale reservoir is at 97% capacity. He has been making small releases of stored water so far this year because the river flow has provided enough water for decreed use. The first priority date change of the season was made last week on the S. Fork, setting it at 1882. A June downpour washed out the Two Dot canal and Highway 12. Repairs have been made.
• Leon Hammond said Deadman’s reservoir is at 67,678 Acre/Feet with only 5,000 Acre/feet to full pool. Water is being released at 178.55 cfs today. Some rip rap and fill work is underway to repair an access road. Material that was dredged from the supply canal has been leveled and is ready for seeding. Grant money is being sought to install a new main release gate for the reservoir and more work on the supply canal.
• Lynn Rettig, Delphia-Melstone Canal Users Association said new water flow telemetry will soon be in place on all his canals. He is waiting for approval of an IDG grant to install a check structure on the Delphia canal to help return excess water to the river during flood events. He treated pond weeds in the Delphia canal to improve flow, then discovered that a lot of water has been running underneath the diversion dam, thus reducing the flow in the canal. A temporary fix involved placing rock at the bottom of the dam. Producers began asking for water all at once when the first hay crop was finally cut and the weather turned hot and dry.
• Diane Ahlgren said the Mosby-Musselshell Watershed Group is still in existence. The river is still running high and has cut banks even more than it did last year. Some pumps have been stranded.
Agency/ Partner Reports:
• Lower Musselshell Conservation District -- Administrator Wendy Jones reported that LMCD has been working with Laura Nowlin on the AIS grant. The district is applying for a grant to purchase a trailer to haul the no-till seed drill. A soil health grant would pay 12 ranchers for soil testing and technical assistance for planting cover crops.
• Upper Musselshell Conservation District -- Laura Nowlin reported that UMCD will sponsor a Range Tour September 4-5, including on Shane Moe’s ranch.
• Garfield County Conservation District -- Dusty Olson said the no-till drill has been busy this summer. Weeds on areas where imported hay was stored and/or fed after the Lodgepole fire are being monitored. The Flowing Wells AIS check station was operated 16 hours/day all summer, and GCCD took on responsibility for operating the Wibaux check station as well. It was difficult to find enough staff to keep that station open the full 16 hours.
• Petroleum County Conservation District -- Carie Hess reported that the community had a tree planting event in town and at the cemetery. Kids’ Day will be either May 7 or 14. A new round of monitoring will begin on artesian wells that were either capped or valved several years ago. Carie is in charge of loaning out a display box for invasive mussels (it came to Roundup for the Trade Show) to be used at local events and schools. The ACES group obtained a $200,000 grant to help with coordination and payments to producers for on-the-ground conservation projects, such as reseeding cropland to perennial cover. The WaterSmart grant is finished up this year.
• Big Sky Watershed Corps -- Mitch Hoffman and Mark Werley have been busy with salt cedar removal, helping operate the Flowing Wells check station, assisting the CM Russell Working Group, and writing the strategic plan for the Cooperative Weed Management Area.
• MWC Scribe/Publicist -- Wendy Beye reported that she has finished the “Guide to Water Distribution Projects Using the Musselshell River Approach” with Peter Marchi’s assistance. An electronic copy of the Guide will be made available on the Musselshell River Distribution Project website, and Peter will be using the Guide to assist other watersheds in the creation of their own
distribution projects. Montana DNRC also published a guide, with a slightly different focus. Used in combination, they provide valuable assistance for watersheds considering water distribution projects.
• County Weed Departments -- Meriel Beck reported that rainy weather held up spraying projects, so less money was spent on chemicals this year. Salt cedar control is set to begin in October with riparian area weed control having to wait because of high water and limited access. Spraying along county roads is just now underway. Gary Olson said he was able to stay aggressive on weed control in Wheatland County. Four different weed trust fund grants helped pay for spraying. He has been collecting samples of new weeds to be added to Montana’s list of noxious weeds, including “Yellow Minuet,” which was traced back to an Air Force missile silo area north of Wheatland County, then brought into a new site in his county. Other new weeds include common buckthorn, medusa head wild rye, ventenata grass, and Non-native Phragmites (a reed).
• Musselshell County DES -- Floyd Fisher said that Great West Engineering will be handling FEMA floodplain permits and enforcement actions for the City of Roundup in the future. The last county road needing repair from the effects of this year’s floods has been completed. There have been some small fires from lightning strikes, with one man receiving burn injuries when his mobile home was struck.
• Musselshell/Golden Valley Extension Office -- Newly-appointed Extension Agent Jennifer Fosjord said that cottonwood leaf beetles, sweet clover, and grasshoppers have all caused problems this year. Her office is considering what controls might be necessary for next year.
• Natural Resources and Conservation Service -- Austin Shero reported that his office has had a very busy late summer season, which is normal in a Farm Bill year. Last year, under the Musselshell Initiative, $980,000 was spent in projects. This year, $1.2 million is being spent across the watershed. For the Montana Focused Conservation initiative, he needs to write a targeted implementation plan for the third year of the initiative. MWC’s work helps “sell” the plan, to the benefit of producers in the watershed. He welcomes ideas that might be included in next year’s plan. Bill Milton suggested expansion of the Mesonet network, whose stations monitor soil moisture. Up to 25 stations could be placed on participating ranches in our area.
• Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks -- New fisheries biologist Bryan Giodarno introduced himself. He will replace Mike Ruggles on the Musselshell River from Martinsdale to the Petroleum County line. Biologist Clint Smith from Lewistown covers downstream to Ft. Peck Reservoir, and the Box Elder and Flatwillow tributaries. Sampling on the lower river this year has recorded populations of channel catfish, river carp suckers, and softshell turtles, with some fish in the tributaries as well. Many irrigation diversion dams were destroyed or bypassed by the river during flooding events, so fish are able to move more freely up and down their habitat. A study will be conducted on how beavers and beaver dam mimicry projects affect prairie fish. Clint also encouraged people to comment on the BLM Resource Management Plan being prepared now. Catherine Wightman announced a forum to be held in Helena on August 27 to discuss beavers and their possible benefits or detriments to the landscape. The sage grouse research program is still ongoing in the Roundup area, and broods this year are reported to be large in spite of the wet spring and early summer. Partnerships are important, and FWP is helping support Hayden Nelson and Tammy VerCauteren in their agency positions. Their work focus is to maintain or improve grasslands on private land. Bill Milton asked about whether FWP could prepare a chart of prairie fish, along with a map where species are located, and their life cycle, to help producers manage their water to the benefit of fisheries. Catherine said there is an app called Fish in Montana that has maps showing fish species’ distribution in the state.
• Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation -- Michael Downey from the Water
Resources Bureau has been working as a member of the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Committee. This year, there was lots of snow in some places, but drought continues to plague the northwest corner of the state. We had a very dry June, but soil moisture rebounded with early July rains. The moisture should hold into fall. The Stream Gage working group will be meeting soon. The federal budget includes USGS funding for Montana’s stream gages, and Montana has also provided funding to past levels. The committee will work to educate policymakers and legislators on the importance of maintaining a robust stream gage network.
• Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality -- Scott Graham said as part of the Bair/Collins mine work a pond may be excavated, with the gravel going to Musselshell County. Pioneer Technical is putting together a permit package. A public hearing will need to be held in the community. Match money and grant money is already in place for the project. Road Supervisor Tom Stockert commented that partnerships really work, as the Roundup Reach projects illustrate.
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- Arin Peters from the Great Falls NOAA Weather Service said the short term forecast is for cooler and wetter weather over the next few weeks. NOAA uses stream gages (but does not contribute funds for maintenance) to create forecasts which come from the Kansas regional NOAA facility. Staff from that facility will be touring the Musselshell this fall to look at the data points used in their forecasts. For information on Musselshell forecast points, go to https://water.weather.gov/ahps/region_forecast.php?state=montana.
Community Conversation Montana Outdoor Heritage
Cole Mannix of Western Landowners Alliance facilitated a discussion about whether Montana should have a fund that would help finance conservation projects and programs around the state, and if so, what types of projects should be included?
Some of the suggestions from the group were (not ranked for importance):
• Expand streamflow gage network
• Expand Mesonet soil moisture station network
• Provide matching funds for conservation easements
• Provide matching funds for wildlife habitat improvement on private lands
• Help pay for soil, bird, and rangeland condition monitoring on private lands
• Assist watershed groups in capacity-building
• Help repair and/or replace aging irrigation infrastructure
• LIDAR flights and GIS support
• Education of landowners in crop selection and soil health support
• Support staffing partnerships across agencies and NGOs
• Funding support for local Conservation Districts
• Help young agricultural producers get started by providing access to suitable land
• Assist with use of prescribed fire on private lands - address liability concerns
• In order to qualify for this funding assistance, groups and individuals must demonstrate that partnerships are part of the programs or projects
The next MWC meeting will be Tuesday, October 8, noon, at the NRCS office on Main in Roundup