Protecting Montana’s pristine water resources

Montana’s pristine lakes and streams are world class. These waters fuel a thriving recreation in­dustry, and are a source of carbon free, renew­able power generation in both the Columbia and Missouri River Basins. Unfortunately, aquatic invasive species (AIS) including zebra and quagga mussels threaten this resource with no known means of eradi­cation once established. “Aquatic invasive spe­cies pose an enormous risk to Montana’s wa­ters, economy, and way of life,” FWP Fisheries Division Administrator Eileen Ryce is quoted as saying in the Flathead Beacon, “The increasing scope and complexity of managing these threats requires a more compre­hensive approach.”

Concern over these troublesome creatures intensified with the discovery of AIS in the Tiber Reservoir in late 2016. State officials de­tected aquatic invasive mussels after larvae were discovered in wa­ter samples, and suspect samples were also taken in Canyon Ferry Reser­voir, the Missouri River below Toston Dam, and the Milk River. In re­sponse, Governor Steve Bullock issued an Ex­ecutive Order proclaim­ing an invasive species emergency in Montana on November 30, 2016.

When the 2017 Legis­lature convened earlier this year, it was clear that funding an appropri­ate response to the AIS threat needed to hap­pen, the only question was who was going to pay. With a general fund insufficient to meet current needs, adding another expensive pro­gram to the mix was not possible. Montana Sen­ate Bill 363, introduced by Sen. Chas Vincent, revises laws relating to AIS, and provides rev­enue sources including a fee for hydroelectric dependent utilities like Missoula Electric Coop­erative (MEC).

Montana’s utilities that own hydropower gen­eration, and electric co­operatives who receive greater that 50% of their energy from hydro­power are responsible for roughly $3.7 million of the $12 million that will be collected annu­ally. For MEC, the cost of funding this AIS ini­tiative is approximately $50,000 per year, or roughly 28 cents per meter, per month. This amount will appear on your monthly billing statement beginning in July and run for a period of 24 months. Why 24 months you might ask? The hydro­power sourced revenue stream was identified as a two-year bridge fund­ing mechanism by the Montana Legislature, until a more permanent funding source can be identified.

At MEC we recognize the importance of do­ing our part to prevent or postpone the spread of AIS in Montana’s pristine waters, but this is a funding issue that should be shared by all stakeholders, because we all have a vested interest in preserving Montana’s tremendous water re­source. Rest assured all of us at MEC, and our Statewide association, will work to ensure that the temporary hydro­power funding sunsets as scheduled, and a per­manent funding source is identified. If you have any questions or con­cerns regarding the AIS fee, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. Have a safe and enjoyable July 4th Holiday!


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