Musselshell Watershed Coalition Meeting Minutes
June 8, 2021 In-Person Meeting, Musselshell County Extension Office
July 14, 2021
Present: Bill Milton, Facilitator; Laura Nowlin, Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator; Wendy Beye, MWC Scribe; Wendy Jones, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Administrator; Shirley Parrott, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Supervisor; Carie Hess, Petroleum County Conservation District Administrator; Diane Ahlgren, Petroleum County Conservation District Supervisor; Greg Seder, Delphia Melstone Canal Water Users Association; Mike Turley, Musselshell County Commissioner; Mike Goffena, Musselshell County Commissioner; Kevin Hyde, MT Mesonet Project; Kelsey Jensco, Montana Climate Office; Tiffany Lyden, MT Dept of Natural Resources and Conservation; Scott Graham, MT Dept of Environmental Quality; Jason Seyler, MT Dept of Environmental Quality; Don Sasse, MT Bureau of Mines and Geology; Shannon Blackburn, MT Dept Fish Wildlife and Parks; Susan Lenard, MT Dept of Transportation; Nikki Rife, NRCS Roundup Field Office; Ethan McJames, NRCS Harlowton Field Office; Arin Peters, NWS Great Falls; Brian Burleson, NWS Glasgow; Laurel Hamilton, US Army Corps of Engineers; Tory Kolkhorst, Senator Daines Office; Karin Boyd, Applied Geomorphology Inc.; Autumn Christenson, Healthy Watershed Consortium; Wendy Weaver, MT Freshwater Partners; Joshua Hobbs, Pheasants Forever; John Rouane, Retired Water Commissioner Musselshell River Water Distribution Project; Shane Moe, Rancher
Facilitator Bill Milton called the meeting to order at 12:10 p.m. After a year of meeting virtually, everyone wanted to visit!
Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator Report:
Laura Nowlin summarized MWC recent activities, which included working on the Musselshell Watershed Plan, which is still open to potential projects to be considered in the future; the Army Corps of Engineers channel migration zone (CMZ) mapping project on the Musselshell, using the CMZ maps and beginning a discussion with Counties and the state Dept of Transportation to identify problem areas before emergencies occur; there is a bank stabilization project near the Goffena-Sudan diversion dam.
NWS Presentation on Drought and Precipitation:
Arin Peters from the Great Falls Weather Service said the current drought condition map is being adjusted to carry the D2 Severe Drought category south to Golden Valley and Musselshell Counties. The outlook for significant precipitation is not promising. Bill Milton asked whether last winter was windier than normal. Arin said that most wind sensor stations didn’t record any more wind than average, and the wind direction was also the same as usual. He did comment that there could have been localized areas of strong winds that weren’t recorded because of sparsely scattered sensors.
US Army Corps of Engineers Channel Migration Project:
Laurel Hamilton of the Army Corps, and Tiffany Lyden from DNRC reported on the Musselshell River Channel Migration Zone Mapping Project. Mapping was completed for about 34 miles of the Musselshell River up and downstream of Roundup in 2017 as a pilot program. The Army Corps is assisting in funding the project as part of the Silver Jacket Team program which works with states to help manage and reduce flood risks. Other members of the Silver Jacket Team include USGS, NWS, and state agencies.
Laurel said that the money allocated to the project by the Army Corps is for floodplain, non-structural projects, planning, research, and communication. The current project covers 340 miles of the Musselshell River. Once the project is complete, information will be presented to the Musselshell Watershed Coalition, along with counties and towns from the upper reaches of the river to its confluence with Fort Peck Reservoir. The team is hoping to complete digitization of all data gathered by September 2021.
Aerial imagery is available from 2019, 2011, 1996, 1977, and the 1950s so that channel locations can be compared. Channels have migrated significantly between 2011 (the big flood year) and 2019.
Karin Boyd mentioned that the channel migration mapping is based on real evidence from the 1950s to the present. Some of the bank armoring done on the river over the years shows on the aerial photos. Files showing bank armoring locations will be transmitted to the Corps if they can use them.
Montana Mesonet Stations
Kelsey Jencso and Kevin Hyde, from the Montana Climate Office at the University of Montana, gave a presentation on future installation of Mesonet stations in eastern Montana. The Army Corps of Engineers provided funding to the state in the amount of $21 million to install an additional 220 stations across the eastern part of the state. The stations will provide the Corps with data for predicting floods on the Missouri River. The data can be used to help time water releases from reservoirs in anticipation of flooding. Information will be used to alert state and federal emergency response teams, and to help manage drought response. The state of Montana will own the stations and maintain them once they are installed.
The Climate Office will work with local groups such as MWC to find appropriate sites. The Musselshell watershed has opportunities for 16 sites in 2022-23. The elevation of a site must be below 5,500’, have soil representative of the area, no tall trees or rock formations too close, not be in the bottom of a gully, be generally level, and have access for maintenance. Once a site is picked on a willing landowner’s property, a NEPA study and Section 106 clearance must also be done. NRCS will do a soil survey and dig the soil pit for the sensors that accompany the station. The equipment can be installed in about 3-5 days.
Karin Boyd asked Kevin about the growing discrepancy between good high-altitude snowpack and prairie soil moisture. The Mesonet stations will send data every 5 minutes for snowfall or rain, and also have cameras aimed at snow measurement stakes. The soil pit monitors give accurate depth of moisture information, along with how long that moisture stays in the soil.
Wendy Beye asked whether some of the money coming to the state via the federal infrastructure legislation could be used to expand the coverage for cell service, as there are still many gaps in the eastern part of the state. Carie Hess from Petroleum County said there is a state legislative committee working on that issue, and we should contact the committee with suggestions.
Kevin asked that MWC ask interested landowners to contact him so he can begin the process of selecting sites in the Musselshell watershed. He has to send a list of potential sites to the Army Corps by August 23 this year. Research and site visits will be done in 2022, and installation in 2023.
• There was no report for the Upper Musselshell Water Users Association reservoirs.
• Laura Nowlin reported for Deadman’s that the reservoir is at 60,984 Acre/feet, or 84% of full pool, which is low for this time of the irrigation season. Priority dates on the river are already at October 19, 1891. Releases from Deadman’s are being made at 80cfs.
• There was no report for the Delphia Melstone Canal Water Users Association.
Agency/ Partner Reports:
• Upper Musselshell Conservation District -- Cheryl Miller reported that there will be a range ride at Harlowton. The Two Dot willow lift is showing leaves, and doing well.
• Lower Musselshell Conservation District -- Administrator Wendy Jones reported that LMCD conducted a Working Group meeting with NRCS, and there was a pretty good turnout. Priorities will be determined for forestry and range practices. The district sold 1400 trees this year and the no till drill is being kept busy. There was a fuel mitigation tour off Rehder Road in the area where the Bobcat Fire burned last summer. The areas where mitigation had been done, including using controlled burning, were dramatically different from those where no work had been done, or where just tree trimming and thinning had been done. Where controlled burning was used, the native grasses were thick and green. Wendy is planning a fall fuel mitigation tour as part of community education and outreach. A weed workshop is also in the works.
• Petroleum County Conservation District -- Carie Hess reported that the Petroleum County Conservation District will celebrate its 70th birthday in October this year. There will be a joint celebration with the ACES group. The district’s long-range plan is in the final steps. Fuel mitigation is ongoing in recovery from last year’s fires. Nicole Masters will conduct workshops on soil health. The Petrolia Irrigation District needs help funding capital improvements and the ditch running through Winnett needs repairs. The district Supervisors will meet with the water users.
• Noxious Weed Biocontrol Education and Outreach will begin this summer. The district is thinking buying a no-till drill since other districts are keeping theirs so busy.
• MWC Scribe/Publicist -- Wendy Beye said she would work on an article highlighting all the projects that MWC has been a key partner in, helping communities and landowners in the watershed.
• Weed Districts – From Kelsey Miller at Wheatland County Weed District - Commercial applicators and private applicators are doing NWTF work on our 4 CWMAs. County Roads and Highway right-of-ways are being sprayed. Our 2 seasonal technicians and I are busy coordinating and monitoring weed treatments on the 4 CWMAS. We’re having regular landowner/contractor/agency partner meetings and site visits. We found 2 new Salt Cedar sites, and are planning on coordinating a partial inventory effort for Salt Cedar along the Musselshell in July. We’re hosting/attending lots of educational events this summer!
Meriel Beck conducted a weed pull with assistance from 4-H club members at the fairgrounds. They pulled spotted knapweed and hounds tongue.
• Musselshell County -- Commissioners Mike Goffena and Mike Turley had just come from a DES meeting. The county is working on a disaster plan to be finalized in October this year.
• Natural Resources Conservation Service -- Ethan McJames Harlowton has hit the precipitation jackpot this year, with 7.7” total to date. The 2020 weed program is being implemented as part of this year’s TIP. Weed inventories are being conducted in preparation for next year’s spraying. Ethan is moving to Oklahoma. Nikki Rife, from the Roundup office said that Ethan is also busy working on another TIP for next year that will cover expiring CRPs for fencing, cross-fencing, and water management. In Musselshell and Golden Valley Counties, 2021 TIPS are wrapping up. We are still part of the Greater Sage Grouse Initiative. Projects in the TIP will include catastrophic wildfire fuel reduction, irrigation water, SGIs, EQIPs, adding up to $1.9 million. The office is looking forward to having channel migration zone maps.
• Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks -- Shannon Blackburn said that Pedrazzi Dam removal contracts are being put into place now. There will soon be work to stabilize the bank threatening the Goffena Sudan dam.
• Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation -- Tiffany Lyden said to mark the date of September 9 on calendars. There will be a Flood Awareness Event in Roundup, as well as hazard mitigation planning. DNRC has been working since 2013 on floodplain maps. The new floodplain designations went into effect on the mainstem of the Musselshell River in 2019. Tributaries will be covered later. These maps guide floodplain permitting. There will be some updates due to the Roundup Reach projects completed last fall. FEMA will do the updating. In the upper reaches of the Musselshell River, Antelope Creek needs to be addressed as it had a major flood in the 1950s which impacted the watershed. All RRGL grants have now been funded with ARPA dollars from the federal bail-out. Carie Hess commented that ARPA dollars can be used for irrigation water as well as municipal water and sewer projects. July 15 is the deadline for applying for these new grants, using an RRGL grant application form.
• Montana Dept. of Transportation -- Susan Lenard said MDT is aware of the problems that highways and highway maintenance projects can cause to a river floodplain. She is trying to educate the department’s engineers on the value of considering floodplain access by the river, under highway rights of way. There is a project now that will allow the Musselshell River to connect to an old oxbow to help alleviate flooding of Highway 12.
• Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality -- Scott Graham said the Bair/Collins Mine site was finished last November. The weeds this spring are not bad, and shrubs and grass are doing well. Also doing well is the site where removed material was dumped. The department is now working on subsidence across the river from the Bair/Collins Mine site. The landowner is being encouraged not to use riprap to solve the problem. There are still some dollars that can be used to turn the remediated site into a recreational access and opportunities. Several historical markers will be placed on the railroad right of way. Jason Seyler said there is some funding for community planning to solicit ideas this fall.
• Healthy Watershed Consortium -- Autumn Christensen said that Montana Conservation Corps can help with riverbank restoration projects. The Consortium is starting on projects in the Lower Musellshell, partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help restore riparian areas. Costs are to be shared with landowners. Autumn supervises a Big Sky Watershed Corps member as he works to educated people about invasive mussels.
The next MWC meeting will be Tuesday, August 10, noon, at a place to be decided.