DENVER – Built in 1904, Rattlesnake Creek Dam played an integral part of the water supply for the City of Missoula, Montana. But at more than a century old, the dam is no longer in use and is a potential hazard to its environment and local community. Without its removal, FEMA estimates Rattlesnake Dam could cause more than $6 million in damages if it failed.
To tackle a project this large, the City formed a partnership with external organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, the Watershed Education Network, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. They’ve worked together over the past several years to prepare the dam for its removal, and the public-private partnership successfully applied for several grants from Patagonia, Northwestern Energy, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is funding more than $700,000 of the project that will go to the removal of the dam and the restoration and re-stabilization of the site. The program provides funds to states following a major disaster declaration, allowing them to fund projects that will minimize the impact of future disasters.
The FEMA grant provides 75 percent of the needed funding to remove the dam, and the partnership has secured the remaining allocations. The City expects the dam to be officially removed during the summer of 2020.
Rattlesnake Creek Dam is just one example out of hundreds of other barriers that pose potential risks to local communities. According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, 70 percent of dams will be past their 50-year life spans by 2025.
“It’s important to identify opportunities where partnerships can really strengthen local communities,” said FEMA Region 8 Mitigation Division Director Jeanine Petterson. “We hope others see the potential and the power of public-private relationships, and that we can serve as an example to remove other aged dams and keep communities safe.”
With the help of UC-Davis Center for Community and Citizen Science, the Rattlesnake Dam partnership will be turned into a model for future restoration efforts throughout the western United States. The Center works to build capacity for local groups to monitor watersheds before, during, and after dam removal through a grant from the Open Rivers Fund. The Rattlesnake Dam removal will be highlighted as a successful example in their final report to help others with watershed restorations.