Commissioners help fund Jefferson River groundwater study

VIRGINIA CITY – At their regular meeting in Virginia City on Tuesday the Madison County Commissioners met with Gary Nelson, Tim Mulligan and Ted Dodge of the Jefferson River Watershed Council do discuss a plan for a groundwater study on the Jefferson River watershed.

Mulligan, a former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner, described the Jefferson as one of the most chronically dewatered rivers in the state, and said the JRWC is very interested in getting the groundwater survey done from the confluence near Twin Bridges to Cardwell for the benefit of both irrigators and sportsmen alike.

“With the Jefferson, not only is the main stream dewatered but most of the tributaries are significantly dewatered,” Mulligan said.

The JRWC currently has a drought management plan for the Jefferson that encourages voluntary water conservation measures when stream flows drop to a certain level or reach a specific water temperature.

“Our concern is the importance of groundwater that recharges to the Jefferson in August and September,” said Dodge.

The study would be conducted by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, and funding and priority for the project is determined by the state legislature. Mulligan said an important criteria in determining eligibility for the project is matching funds, so the JRWC asked Madison County to contribute $15,000 toward the project. The council already received a commitment in the same amount from Jefferson County, and a commitment of $10,000 from the Golden Sunlight Mine.

Commissioner Dan Happel agreed with Dodges concern, but emphasized the need to protect citizen’s property rights.

“We need the information, we need to be able to protect our resources, we need to be able to do a good job in protecting the environment, but I also caution that we need to be careful to make sure that we try to protect private property while we’re doing that,” Happel said.

The commissioners passed a motion to support the JRWC’s application for the project through the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, and agreed to contribute matching funds in the amount of $15,000 toward the project.

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