Poor landscaping can cause damage along rivers

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Homeowners are warned not to disturb trees and shrubs near river and stream banks. They help hold the bank in place and if removed can cause extensive damage to property. (Photo courtesy of Mineral County Conservation District)

Homeowners with property along the river or streambeds sometimes landscape their lawns too close to the high water mark. This can spell disaster to their beautifully manicure lawn as well as to the river bank, warns Mineral County Conservation District Board Chairman, Charlee Thompson.

“Most property owners want manicured lawns to the river and while the Conservation District Board understands that it’s important that some of the trees and brush remain in place in order to protect the property,” she said.

An example is a landowner who recently approached the board after removing trees and brush along Clark Fork River. Trees and brush which helped keep the bank stable. Once removed, grass was planted and after a year of heavy moisture, snow and spring floods, the bank fell into the river, causing extensive and expensive, damage to the homeowner.

In order to combat this issue, Montana’s Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act, or the 310 Law was enacted. This state law requires people who are planning to work in or near a year-around (perennial) stream or river on private or public land must first obtain a 310 Permit from their local conservation district.

The permits are free and are valid for one year. Property owners can work with board members, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, or Fish, Wildlife, and Parks personnel to help keep their banks healthy and free from erosion. Projects that require a 310 permit include: dredging; work on culverts, bridges, dams and ponds; stream bank protection and stabilization projects; boat ramps and docks; fences and decks; and sandbagging efforts.

If a permit is not obtained, property owners could face a fine of up to $1,000, “but that’s not the point of permit. We want to work with homeowners to make sure there is no damage to the streams, rivers, their banks or adjoining properties,” Thompson said.

Mowing lawns, weed whacking, cutting down willows, and excavating streambed, even if they are dry, are some of the issues the board has dealt with in the past, “basically don’t disturb around river and stream beds lower than the high water mark,” said Thompson.

The conservation district also tries to educate the public about the importance of healthy river and stream banks. This includes awarding $3,000 worth of scholarships to graduating Mineral County high school seniors. In order to qualify, they write an essay explaining the importance of the 310 law and conservation. This year’s winners were Jacob Jasper from St. Regis and Hailey Kelly and Wyatt O’Day from Superior. No students from Alberton applied.

“This is an important issue, especially with all the flooding we had this year,” said HD 14 Rep. Denley Loge, who used to sit on the board.

Property owners can contact the Mineral County Conservation District online at co.mineral.mt.us/departments/conservation-district or call (406) 822-3452 for more information.

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