Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Dan Flores

Commitee Members

Jeff Wiltse, Jody Pavilack, Tobin Shearer, Nancy Cook, Sara Dant


Bioregional History, Clark Fork River, Environmental History, Environmental law, Restoration, Superfund


University of Montana


This dissertation is a case study of a dam removal and river restoration within the nation's largest Superfund site. In 1981, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency included Milltown Reservoir on its first list of Superfund sites. Superfund law capped two decades of the federal government's most aggressive environmental legislation. While tracking the national story of Superfund law, my story provides a local view of how individuals, organizations, and agencies shaped the Superfund process. After the EPA designated Milltown a national Superfund site, the environment itself, persistent work within the channels of public policy, and federally-mediated compromise helped restore some shine to Milltown's waters.

Milltown is representational, rather than unique. Human health concerns, which were the primary purpose of Superfund, garnered Milltown designation. Arsenic contaminated the groundwater in a residential community. Groundwater contamination has been the most consistent and worrisome risk throughout the history of designating Superfund sites, while arsenic tops the list of contaminants reported at those sites. Nearly a century of upstream mining caused Milltown's problem. Mining sites cost more and occur more frequently than any other Superfund cleanups. Two major corporations were responsible for funding cleanup at Milltown, whereas nearly half of all Superfund sites have two to ten responsible parties. Thus, Milltown is exceptionally representative of Superfund's history.

Using extensive archival research, government documents, oral histories, newspaper accounts and personal observation, I have written a dissertation that explores how Milltown provoked major changes in Superfund implementation and late-20th century environmentalism. The final remedy at Milltown removed an average-sized dam and restored a section of the Clark Fork River. The process increased the importance of public input in Superfund and its emphasis on restoring environments. That shift coincided with a turn toward repairing degraded landscapes by both grassroots and national environmental groups. Milltown helped foster the growth of a corporate, restoration industry. And, it helped define restoration, while pushing restorative efforts beyond the confines of its Superfund boundaries.



© Copyright 2012 David James Brooks