Subscribe to RSS Feed

Thursday, March 4th
7:00 PM

2010 State of the River - Looking Back and Thinking Forward 25 Years

Vicki J. Watson, University of Montana - Missoula
Chris Brick, Clark Fork Coalition
Rick Bass

7:00 PM - 7:40 PM

Evaluating the State of the Clark Fork River and its Basin requires that we periodically:

  1. Assess its condition & compare that to our goals for the basin;
  2. Determine whether the basin’s condition is getting better or worse;
  3. Evaluate our plans & on-the-ground actions for effectiveness; and
  4. Consider challenges that face us in meeting our goals.

Condition and Trends

The basin’s condition in 2008 is compared to its condition in 2004 and 2000 based on biennial assessments made by MT Department of Environmental Quality and summarized in the Clean Water Act Information Center database. From 2000 to 2004, the percent of assessed streams found to be impaired decreased, mainly because many streams were judged to have insufficient current information to make a determination. Between 2004 and 2008, many of those streams were re-assessed and put back on the impaired list (77% of assessed stream miles are impaired).

MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks is converting to a new fisheries database hence fisheries condition & trends were not assessed. However, biological integrity assessments based on macroinvertebrates showed considerable improvement in the upper Clark Fork.


Challenges that continue to interfere with achieving basin water quality goals include the rapid rate of population growth, unregulated groundwater wells, longer fire seasons (taking much of the Forest Service’s budget and leaving less for watershed work). Increased development and water use and changing climate conditions (rising temperatures and reduced snow pack) are worsening stream dewatering and temperatures.

Plans & Actions

The MT Department of Environmental Quality produced more TMDL’s and water quality restoration plans for impaired waters in the basin, but more plans remain to be completed. New digital floodplain maps are being produced in the basin which will help with land use planning. Watershed conservation partnerships, large & small, continue to form throughout the basin – around 30 watershed groups are now active in the basin.

On-the-ground ACTION in the basin continues to be outstanding. Many fisheries restoration projects are being executed by MFWP & USFS & Trout Unlimited, and private landowners. The city of Missoula upgraded its wastewater plant, drastically reducing nutrient loads to the river even as the number of sewer connections greatly increased. Superfund remediation projects are carefully coordinated with restoration work funded by the Natural Resource Damage Program. Going beyond remediation to restoration is healing the land & providing jobs to communities. The decision to re-naturalize Silver Bow Creek & the confluence of the Blackfoot & Clark Fork Rivers has produced two outstanding outcomes:

In 2008, after 100 years, native trout returned to Silver Bow Creek, and native trout also now swim through the restored confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers.

7:40 PM

Transformation of Milltown Reservoir: Superfund Site to State Park

Diana Hammer, EPA Milltown Project Manager

7:40 PM - 8:20 PM

8:20 PM

Transformation of Silver Bow Creek: Remediation/Restoration

Joel Chavez, Montana Department of Environmental Quality

8:20 PM - 9:00 PM

Friday, March 5th
10:00 AM

Flathead Lake - Long Term Trends and Rising Threats

Bonnie Kathleen Ellis, The University of Montana

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

Flathead Lake, a jewel in the Crown of the Continent, has experienced dramatic changes from human actions over the past few decades. To examine these impacts, monthly measurements of primary production, nutrients, and other physical and biological variables in Flathead Lake, Montana, were made in the period 1977-2004. This time spanned increasing development in the watershed, a prolonged drought and warming episode, and introduction and population explosion of the nonnative opossum shrimp, Mysis relicta. Trends and interactions were evaluated for statistical significance using frequentist and Bayesian analyses. Aerosol deposition of nitrate and ammonium increased while soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) declined over the period of record. Riverine loading of nitrate increased and ammonium and SRP decreased. Blooms of the blue-green alga Anabaena flos-aquae (an indicator of over-enrichment) occurred several times during the period of record, and hypolimnetic oxygen concentrations have decreased. Catastrophic foodweb change was clearly associated with the establishment of Mysis relicta. Mysids exploded to 129 m2 in 1984-86 then declined rapidly with increasing profundal lake trout predation. Intense foraging by mysids caused an 83% reduction in the biomass of large zooplankton. Lake trout expansion and zooplankton changes corresponded with extirpation of established nonnative Kokanee salmon and a decline in native salmonid fishes. Coincident with the Mysis upheaval there was a step increase in primary production. The limnological legacy of Flathead Lake is a story of changing quasi-stable states mediated by a strong interaction between nutrient loading and mysid foraging. Continued population growth and the potential for more exotic species introductions are ongoing concerns for Flathead Lake.

10:45 AM

Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Program 1998-2008

William H. McDowell, Clark Fork Coalition

10:45 AM - 11:15 AM

The Clark Fork Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Program (VNRP) was a multi-party agreement between state government, municipal governments, private industry and environmental groups with the explicit goal to: “restore beneficial uses and eliminate nuisance algae growth in the Clark Fork from Warm Springs to the Flathead confluence…”

The VNRP was carried out from 1998-2008 by Butte-Silver Bow County, City of Deer Lodge, Missoula City-County government, City of Missoula, Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, DEQ and the Clark Fork Coalition, all facilitated by the Tri-State Water Quality Council, based in Sandpoint, Idaho. The work done by the VNRP signatories was recognized nationwide, and prominently highlighted in numerous EPA case studies and documents about how to do nutrient management at a river basin scale.

* VNRP signatories decreased nutrient discharge in all areas of the river, including decreases of wastewater nutrients of 30% in total nitrogen and 72% in total phosphorus from 1988 to 2008.

*This effort translated into major reductions of nutrients in the Clark Fork, both in the upper river and in the middle river near Missoula, with mean total phosphorus concentrations dropping by half during the period 1988-2007.

*The algae targets were met about 30% of the time in the upper and middle river, and 70% of the time in the river below Missoula, with an improving trend in compliance downstream of Missoula. The upper Clark Fork near Deer Lodge has tougher algae targets, and a notoriously difficult species of algae to control, and that trend is not yet showing improvement.

11:15 AM

25 Years of Butte Cleanup

Jon Sesso, Butte Silver Bow County

11:15 AM - 12:00 PM

In the 25-year effort to improve the Clark Fork River watershed, from its headwaters in Butte to the dam at Milltown, the Superfund-driven cleanup has been a remarkable achievement. Along the way, though, remediation decision-making has sometimes left questions, for example: How clean is clean enough? Why isn’t “total removal” ever completed? The practical reality of a risk-based cleanup law for hazardous wastes (CERCLA/SECRA/Superfund) is far different from the requirements of the clean air and water laws, which are more widely understood.

The presentation will draw a parallel between observations related to what’s been happening in the Upper Clark Fork basin and the four basic laws of ecology, as formulated by Dr. Barry Commoner and articulated in his early 1970’s environmental book, The Closing Circle. The lessons learned about the cleanup actions from Butte to Milltown reveal that, indeed, everything is connected to everything else (Law #1) and there is no such thing as a free lunch (Law #4).

The talk will conclude with an emphasis on the benefits of blending remedial action with restoration initiatives, and how various projects should be designed to maximize these benefits. In addition to bringing the scarred natural resources within the Upper Clark Fork River watershed back to robust life, the totality of the project must also stay vitally connected to the needs of the people who live and work from one end of the Basin to the other.