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Thursday, April 23rd
7:00 PM

2015 State of the River - 30 Years of Conservation Progress

Vicki J. Watson, University of Montana - Missoula

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 2014 is compared to its condition since 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, due to insufficient data. Between 2004 and 2008, many of those streams were re-assessed and put back on the impaired list (77% of stream miles impaired). By 2014, 73% of assessed stream miles were judged to be impaired.

Macroinvertebrate biological integrity assessments throughout the basin are showing improvement. MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks traded their MFISH database for a new Crucial Areas Planning System interactive mapping system. Trend information was not available, but the system’s Watershed Integrity assessment put 40% of the basin’s watersheds in the highest quality quartile for the state.


Challenges that interfere with achieving basin water quality goals continue to be: rapid growth in the human population and in unregulated groundwater wells, less snowpack, longer fire seasons (taking much of the Forest Service’s budget and leaving less for watershed work). Stream dewatering and flow related water quality impairments are growing concerns as are aquatic invasive species and flood damage.

Plans & Actions

MT Department of Environmental Quality has completed total maximum daily load plans for 98% of the impaired waters in the basin, and many watershed restoration plans have also been completed. New digital floodplain maps are available for all but 3 basin counties, and online channel migration zone maps are available for some areas. Montana FWP has an aquatic invasive species management program with boat inspection stations and public education. FWP fisheries restoration efforts on the Blackfoot River have been followed by impressive increases in native trout numbers and biomass.

In addition to its stream restoration projects, the MT Natural Resource Damage Program purchased 40,000 acres to add to MT Wildlife Management Areas. The Missoula Wastewater Treatment Plant continues to move towards ‘Zero Waste’ by using its effluent to irrigate a tree plantation, sending all its sludge to a compost facility and capturing its methane for energy.

2015 was a ‘watershed year’ for the Clark Fork watershed. New state and basin water plans were adopted, the Montana Legislature ratified the CSKT Compact and sent it to Congress, and the Montana Watershed Coordination Council registered as a 501(c)(3) organization. While almost 30 watershed groups remain active in the basin, two important groups lost funding – The Tristate Water Quality Council ceased to exist and the Clark Fork Basin Task Force became dormant (but hopes to revive as a basin council as recommended in the basin water plan).

Postscript – in fact the Clark Fork Kootenai Basin Council did form in 2017.

7:40 PM

Science of the CSKT Water Rights Compact

Seth Makepeace, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

7:40 PM - 8:20 PM

Starting in 1982, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes embarked on a deliberative process to collect hydrologic data and technical information concerning Reservation water resources. Through this effort the Tribes have developed a thirty+ year dataset, often on small and generally overlooked water resources, and have developed an in-depth understanding of surface and ground-water resources and their interaction. This information has broad application for ongoing water resources management. Also, for several decades the Tribes have recognized that their reserved, but unquantified, water rights would need to be perfected either in a negotiated or adjudicatory setting. Recognizing the complexity of water use on the Reservation and the challenges of interjecting unquantified reserved rights into already over-utilized waters, the Tribes have consistently sought in their negotiation efforts to apply a forward-looking and scientific approach to water allocation. Rigorously developed water budgets for natural and modified hydrology form the base level for this perspective, and the Tribes have applied the HYDROSS allocation model as the container to hold and distribute water budget terms across the Jocko, Mission and Little Bitterroot Valleys; areas which are highly modified by irrigated agriculture served by the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. Prior to and concurrent with modeling work, major water budget terms - e.g. natural and modified hydrology, crop types and crop water consumption, irrigated acreage, and irrigation project infrastructure -- were developed as stand-alone work products and inputs to the modeling framework. This significant level of technical effort is distilled in the Compact into a set of numeric tables and rules for implementation, the tip of a pyramid built on years of technical endeavor.

8:20 PM

Conserving Natural Water Storage to Mitigate Climate Change in the Clark Fork Basin

Bruce Simms, US Forest Service

8:20 PM - 9:00 PM

There is widespread scientific consensus that climate change will affect Montana’s hydrology by increasing spring and fall rainfall, reducing snowpack and increasing summer evapotranspiration. The expected results include earlier and more intense spring runoff (flooding) and reduced baseflow in summer (lower low flows). Natural water storage features on the landscape tend to smooth out the extremes of the hydrograph, by storing spring rains and gradually releasing the water later in the dry season. Natural water storage features can be managed to mitigate the expected effects of climate change. Options include riparian and wetland protection, increasing beaver populations, implementation of the USFS/State of Montana Compact, forest, and snowpack management. These options can augment human-constructed storage facilities and may preclude the need for additional infrastructure. In light of the upcoming revision of national forest plans in the basin, an emphasis on natural storage management is strongly advised.