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$100,000 grant will protect key drinking water source

Big Butte Springs bubble forth in the shadow of Mount McLoughlin. A new $100,000 Oregon Department of Forestry grant will help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. [Photo by Nancy McClain]

The Oregon Department of Forestry will grant $100,000 to help protect thousands of acres near a primary source of Southern Oregon’s drinking water.

The Federal Forest Restoration grant will focus on reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire near the Big Butte Springs watershed, according to a press release issued Tuesday by ODF.

The area about 30 miles north of Medford has been the area’s primary source of drinking water since 1927, and provides 26.4 million gallons of water per day to approximately 140,000 people, according to the release.

The water routinely flows from the spring needing no treatment other than on-site chlorination to meet disinfection requirements under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, according to the Medford Water Commission, which also serves parts of Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent.

The nonprofit Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative identified the watershed as a priority area in the region in its Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration strategy published in 2017.

The grant covers 2,000 acres of surveys in the watershed, but will pair with partnerships and matching funds with the water commission and the Blue Forest Conservation nonprofit, according to ODF.

The goal is to treat roughly a third of the Big Butte Springs watershed — about 20,000 acres — through a mix of fuels reduction, fire breaks and habitat restoration.

“The project on this scale is necessary to achieving the level of widespread resilience necessary for sustaining and protecting this critical watershed,” the ODF release states.