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At Logan Pass, endangered insect presents a quandary for flush toilets

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | January 31, 2024 2:00 AM

An endangered insect could impact future water use at Glacier National Park’s Logan Pass Visitor Center.

The visitor center has flush toilets, sinks and water bottle filling stations for visitors to the Park’s storied pass. But all that flushing and water bottle filling adds up to about 8,000 gallons of water a day, noted Park biologist Chris Downs.

The water comes from Logan Creek, which flows just above the pass and is home to the Meltwater Lednian Stonefly, a rare insect that lives in only the coldest, cleanest water sources in the park, typically below glaciers and perennial snowfields.

It was placed on the Endangered Species List in 2019. With global warming, however, by 2030 most glaciers supplying cold water to Meltwater Lednian and Western Glacier Stonefly (another endangered stonefly in the park) are projected to melt. As a result, habitat with a high probability of occupancy for the Meltwater Lednian Stonefly is modeled to decrease 81%, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Logan Creek, particularly in the upper stretches, is excellent Meltwater Lednian Stonefly habitat, noted Downs. 

“It has some the highest densities that occur anywhere,” he said.

According to the USFWS, at the time of listing, the stonefly was confirmed in 113 streams, of which 109 were in Glacier National Park. But they live only in the uppermost and coldest sections of streams where the water doesn’t typically get above 50 degrees.

The Park takes water out of the stream through an infiltration box, it is  held in a tank and then it supplies the visitor center.

While water isn’t taken every day, as the climate warms, things aren’t getting better for the insects, Downs noted in an interview last week. The Park Service hasn’t come up with a formal plan to address the situation at this point, Downs conceded, but there are some ideas being considered.

One would be to install more pit toilets at the visitor center. The park already installed some a few years ago, but would have to install even more to fully accommodate visitors. If a vehicle stops at Logan Pass, invariably someone has to go to the bathroom.

But pit toilets come with their own challenges, Downs notes. For one, they have to be pumped out and the waste has to be hauled down the Going-to-the-Sun Road by truck to the park’s sewage treatment plant.

Building more pit toilets would also mean a larger developed footprint at the pass, which is largely pristine, save for the parking lot and visitor center itself.

A quick, but perhaps unsightly fix, would be just to add more portable toilets. While they still have to be pumped out, they’re temporary and don’t create a larger footprint at the parking lot. The Park used them in 2016 when there was a drought at that time.

Another alternative might be to drill a water well at the pass that would serve the visitor center without impacting Logan Creek.

They’re also looking at potentially upgrading the water collection system at the creek to reduce impacts, but that comes with risks — under the Endangered Species Act, they wouldn’t be able to squish the bugs when doing any work. They also can’t dewater the stream itself.

Nothing has been determined yet, Downs noted. The park is working on a comprehensive water supply plan for the center, he said, though no timeline has been determined at this point.

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