New watershed management code approved for Little Sand Creek Watershed

New watershed management code approved for Little Sand Creek Watershed

This month, the Sandpoint City Council approved a new city code, Title 7, Chapter 16, Watershed Protection. The purpose of this chapter is to promote the health, welfare and safety of Little Sand Creek. Little Sand Creek, which sits beneath Schweitzer Mountain and northwest of town, is one of Sandpoint’s drinking water sources; the other source being Lake Pend Oreille. What is unique about this water source is that the City owns over half of the watershed – 4,161 acres of the 7,800 acre creek basin, which is considerably more manageable than the 16 million acre water source of Lake Pend Oreille.

The Little Sand Creek watershed (outlined in blue) in relation to nearby towns. Source: City of Sandpoint Maps

Minimizing the amount of pollutants that enter the Sand Creek treatment plant is critically important as the aging plant is not designed to remove large quantities of sediment. Source water protection is the first level of defense the City uses to protect our water from contaminants and pollutants that could threaten the drinking water provided to nearly half of Sandpoint residents.

At the City Council meeting on December 16th, the City’s Public Works Director, Amanda Wilson, and consultants Randy Reeve and Michael Zenthoefer presented to the council the new code aimed at protecting this valuable resource. This new chapter promotes the maintenance and protection of the City’s watershed and waterworks from damage, harm or injury, and preventing pollution of the City’s water supply. Specifically, it defines which activities are allowed within the watershed and which activities will be regulated through permits issued by the City.

Non-restricted, non-permit activities include hiking and mountain biking on established trails, while restricted activities include road construction, maintenance, noxious weed and insect control, forest management, fire mitigation, law enforcement and firefighting. Restricted activities that do not require a permit will be performed by the City and therefore will not necessitate the permitting process. Regulated activities include surface impacts such as mining, dredging and other uses that disturb the landscape, the use of motorized vehicles, hunting, horseback riding, camping, and more. 

No activities that could impair the water quality will be permitted within 150 feet of the stream. While there will be enforcement in the area, Wilson says that education and increased monitoring will be their first priorities.

A major component of the new code is the Little Sand Creek Watershed Management Plan, which was approved by the City Council on January 20, 2021. The purpose of the Plan is to document existing conditions, establish and document goals associated with ownership and use of the land, define actions for implementing such goals, and provide best management practices for various activities within the watershed. The Plan focuses on the land owned by the City, but in the future they hope to work with other entities who also own part of the watershed.

LPOW appreciates and commends the efforts of the City to protect its watershed. Please feel free to contact us at any time if you have any questions, comments or concerns. LPOW plans to remain involved in the process as we see it as a critical component to long term water quality in our area for years to come.

To read the new Watershed Management Plan for Little Sand Creek, click here.