Ruby Watershed Council surveys local landowners, community

The Ruby River Watershed Council is reaching out to local citizen and east side landowners to get their input and feelings about a variety of resource issues in the lower Ruby Valley.

The watershed council, which is the outreach and education arm of the Ruby Conservation District, sent out surveys last week to all landowners with more than five acres on the east side of the Ruby River between the Ruby Dam and the river’s confluence with the Beaverhead River.

The surveys ask people for their level of concern about a variety of issues including noxious weeds, soil stability and water quality. Though the landowners received hard copies, the survey is online and the public is welcome to fill it out, said Rebecca Ramsey, Ruby Watershed Coordinator.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality concluded their total maximum daily load study on the Ruby River watershed in 2006. The study looked at water quality throughout the watershed and listed streams that were impaired and the causes for the impairments.

Montana DEQ is required to do the TMDL study under the Clean Water Act, said Mark Kelley, water quality specialist with DEQ in Helena. However, addressing the impairments in streams listed in the TMDL study is voluntary.

“There is zero requirement that anything happen to implement the recommendations of the TMDL so it’s an entirely voluntary process once the TMDL is created,” Kelley said.

However, the Ruby Watershed Council can be more competitive for grant money to help address water quality issues if they have a watershed restoration plan, he said.

The survey is the first big step towards that watershed restoration plan, said Les Gilman, an Alder area rancher who is on the watershed council.

“We just thought it would be appropriate to involve the local community in identifying a variety of resource concerns,” Gilman said.

The survey will help the council focus the restoration plan by prioritizing restoration work to areas the community and landowners feel is most appropriate, Ramsey said.

To work on the watershed restoration plan, the watershed council received a grant from DEQ, she said.

The reason the survey focuses on the east side of the Ruby Valley is because the vast majority of impaired streams in the watershed are located there. The most common impairment is sediment, Ramsey said.

Sediment impairment can be caused by a variety of things, Kelley said. It can come from roads, worn down stream banks or lack of riparian vegetation.

Some of it could be simply the nature of the watershed, Ramsey said. The Ruby Watershed is young from a geologic standpoint and high sediment loads could be a natural function of the system.

Projects that could address sediment loads in streams would be off-stream watering tanks for livestock and better road grading efforts, she said.

And though the water council is focusing its efforts this year on developing a watershed restoration plan, there is no doubt that the watershed as a whole is in much better shape than many around Montana, Gilman said.

The Ruby Valley is fortunate to have the watershed council to bring education and community outreach to watershed issues like water quality, soil erosion and range health, he said.

“I’m biased but I believe the Ruby is fairly progressive and open minded in trying to stay ahead of the curve,” Gilman said. “I think our conservation district has to take a lot of credit for that.”

For more information on the watershed survey, contact Rebecca Ramsey at 842-5741, ext. 106. The survey can be taken online or by hard copy.

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