By Michael Howell
Rudy Kratofil, Chairman of the Board for Daly Ditches, cut the ribbon last week at a dedication ceremony for the new fish screen recently installed on the Hedge Ditch. The screen is a state of the art self-cleaning mechanism that removes debris from the screen with an automatic brush system and shuttles fish back into the river.
Installation of the fish screen was just one phase of a three-phase project that involved replacing the 100-year-old dam in the river with a new structure that includes a boat passage as well as reconstruction of the intake structure.
Daly Ditches Manager Paul Barteni said that US Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks requested that the ditch company also consider installation of a fish screen to minimize the impact of the ditch system on the fishery. This was especially important to protect Bull Trout which are an endangered species. Fish swimming into the ditch face a difficult time surviving the draw down of the ditch in winter. Some manage to swim out, some are netted and returned to the river by volunteers, but many perish.
Morrison-Maierle Engineering of Missoula wrote a planning grant for the project back in 2008. Funding for the $1.1 million project was obtained through the Montana FWP Future Fisheries program and stimulus funds granted through the Army Corps of Engineers. The grants covered about 75% of the cost of the project and the ditch users financed the remainder through a low interest loan from the state. It took approval of 60% of the landowners on the ditch as well as owners of 60% of the land area served.
Molly Skorpik of Morrison-Maierle, head engineer on the project, said that the dam serving the Hedge Ditch had been projected to fail. She said grants were essential to the project because the cost of reconstructing the 100-year-old infrastructure needed to be balanced against the replacement costs. The 22 mile long ditch irrigates about 6,000 acres of land.
Richard Corkins of Rucker Electric LLC out of Yakima Washington, who coordinated the installation effort, said that the cost of maintenance of the new fish screen would be minimal. It means maintaining and replacing the brushes, the drive belt, some bearings and some annual costs for keeping the computer and speed drive functioning appropriately. It is the only power driven fish screen in the state of Montana.
Another project recently undertaken by the ditch company was a bank stabilization project along 680 feet of the river where a 55-foot-tall bank was eroding away and threatening the integrity of the ditch. The total cost of placing coconut fiber mats across the bank and installing a French drain was about $140,000. Barteni said the company got a $100,000 Renewable Resource grant through DNRC to cover most of the cost and the ditch company covered the rest.