It appears the Buffalo Municipal Watershed project is a solution looking for a problem.
The goal of the project is to reduce sources of sediment and debris that could cause problems for Buffalo’s water supply in the event of a wildfire, but the multi-million-dollar price tag far outweighs the potential hazards.
The Clear Creek watershed has a history of extensive stand replacement fires, which is historically typical for lodgepole pine vegetation. In recorded history, there’s been the Duck Burn and the Lost Fire in the Clear Creek drainage. Both of those fires burned over 10,000 acres. After the 1988 Lost Fire, the City of Buffalo spent approximately $15,000 to remove sediment from the water intake facility in 1989 and 1990. When asked if the water intake has needed any further sediment removal, the city did not have a definitive response. The estimated costs for taxpayers for the 38,000-acre BMW project could total more than $3.4 million as outlined in the Forest’s Environmental Assessment. In fact, in a recent Bulletin article, Bighorn National Forest staff stated the cost may be closer to $6 million.
The Bighorn National Forest approved clear-cutting 1,200 acres in the Sourdough drainage as part of the BMW project. Removal of those trees will require miles of new haul roads, which will be subject to erosion for many years – much longer than the two years of sedimentation experienced after the Lost Fire.
The Clear Fork of Powder River, as it was originally named, has flowed clear for thousands of years. The lower reaches of Clear Creek show no evidence of great silted deltas. Is it a wise use of taxpayers’ money to spend 200 to 400 times as much as it cost the City of Buffalo nearly 30 years ago to remove the sediment from the water intake?
Rob Davidson, Buffalo
Council for the Bighorn Range