Clark Fork Coalition Newsletter - "Currents" Fall 2014

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clark fork coalition • fall 2014



Dear Friend of Clean Water It’s an exciting time in the Clark Fork watershed, with cleanup on a scale never before seen in western Montana, tributaries on the mend, and more people than ever before caring for the river. With this kind of momentum behind us, it would be natural to set our sights downstream to see what’s ahead. But right now, we’re looking upstream instead. Here’s why. Headwaters are essential to the health of functional river systems, shaping and defining everything downstream. Those lower reaches feel the pinch if there’s too little water, or the punch if there’s too much pollution. When the headwaters are spoiled, damaged, or compromised, that impact is felt watershed-wide. The headwaters of the Clark Fork River—the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, and Upper Clark Fork—flow through some of the wildest habitat left in the continental United States and have been the lifeblood of the region for millennia. In addition to supporting dozens of communities, they have also been the backbone of Montana’s mining, forestry, and agricultural industries – intensive uses which left them in pretty rough shape.

TOGETHER WE’RE MAKING THE CLARK FORK CLEAN, HEALTHY, AND WHOLE The mission of the Clark Fork Coalition is to protect and restore the Clark Fork River watershed

Board of Directors Sarah Bates (President) Beth Brennan (Vice President) Trent Baker (Secretary) Tim Polich (Treasurer) Mary Babson Ali Duvall Chris Eyer Tim Flynn


Mike Johnston Cameron Lawrence Paul Moseley Perk Perkins Beth Schenk Traci Sylte Holly Truitt

Staff Chris Brick, PhD Barbara Chillcott Andy Fischer Julie Hiett Ben Horan Karen Knudsen Will McDowell Liz Murphy Pat Ortmeyer Ellie Rial Maggie Schmidt Jed Whiteley

Science Director Legal Director Project Manager Bookkeeper/Grants Administrator Stream Restoration Specialist Executive Director Restoration Director Development/Special Events Manager Development/Communications Director Outreach/Learning Coordinator Ranch Manager Project Manager/Monitoring Coordinator

But that doesn’t mean we can switch to auto-pilot. We need your help to tip the headwaters into full health by continuing to heal what’s been damaged, and by stopping future threats to clean water in the basin. Restoring these systems means on-the-ground repair of impaired and compromised habitat; top-notch cleanup of legacy mining pollution; basin-wide policies and practices that protect clean water; and engaged citizens who are trained and inspired to be lifelong stewards of our most precious resource. In this issue of Currents we explore the headwaters restoration progress you’ve helped make possible to date, as well as the challenges and issues we still need to tackle. The ongoing recovery of the Clark Fork River is one of the most remarkable and inspirational restoration success stories in the West. We are proud to have worked with you to create this story. Now we’re asking for your continued support to keep the momentum going. With your help, we can make the Clark Fork River clean, healthy, and whole once again.

Sarah Bates, Board President

Technical Advisors

Clark Fork Coalition

Matt Clifford, Esq. Jim Kuipers, P.E. Vicki Watson, PhD

140 S. 4th St. W. Unit #1 ­­· Missoula, MT 59801 PO Box 7593 ­­· Missoula, MT 59807 T 406 542 0539 ­­· F 406 542 5632 ­­· #cleanwater


They might very well have stayed that way, but Coalition members and partners like you are turning that legacy around, giving the hardest-hit of these key tributaries the TLC they need to heal and thrive. We’ve come a long way from the days when many saw the river as a logical waste receptacle. From massive Superfund cleanups of mining byproducts, to small-scale water conservation projects on individual ranches, things are looking up for the Clark Fork, and the headwaters are literally coming back to life.

Karen Knudsen, Executive Director



THE WAIT IS OVER: IT’S GO TIME. As Currents readers know, the Clark Fork watershed produced vast quantities of metals and minerals for the nation and the world over the last 150 years, paying a heavy price in the process. What many may not know, however, is that the rush for riches also jump-started other major industries in Montana, the

impacts of which were felt in nearly every corner of the watershed. While mines, mills, and smelters were built and operated along countless creeks and streams in the Upper Clark Fork, millions upon millions of trees were being logged in the Blackfoot drainage for mining infrastructure, railroad timbers, housing, and other needs. In the lush Bitterroot

valley, an abundance of food and lumber were being produced to support booming mine camps and rapidly-growing towns. Across the watershed, logging kicked into high gear, as workers built dams, irrigation ditches, roads, and railways at a frenzied pace to keep up with the enormous needs triggered by the rush for silver and gold.

River Rx: Prescription for a healthy headwaters

Mining and other intensive industries took a heavy toll on the Clark Fork - but it’s coming back.

Photo by Margie Hylkema

What are the keys to healing a river system?

It’s a new era of recovery and restoration, but plenty of work lies ahead.

REWATER, RECONNECT, REHABILITATE FROM WRECKAGE TO RESTORATION Luckily, attitudes toward the river have turned around over the last several decades. From a legacy of mining, logging, and agriculture has sprung a new era of recovery and restoration. And we’ve made some remarkable gains. Through the federal Superfund program, the once hopelessly contaminated Silver Bow Creek has been completely rebuilt and now supports a vibrant fishery. More than a hundred miles downstream,



Milltown Dam has been removed and the historic Clark Fork-Blackfoot confluence has been restored. In between, another massive Superfund cleanup of mining contamination on 56 miles of riverbank and floodplain is now underway. In the adjacent Blackfoot Valley, an unstable mine tailings dam that threatened to contaminate one of Montana’s most celebrated blue-ribbon trout streams is at last being removed.

These projects are pulling some of the most dangerous environmental stressors out of the headwaters of the Clark Fork. But the work has only just begun. Hundreds of miles of streams remain chronically dewatered (lacking sufficient water to support fish), are disconnected from mainstem rivers (reducing flow and interrupting fish passage), and are still deeply scarred from 150 years of hard work.

What’s needed now is a concerted focus on the “three Rs:” rewatering, reconnecting, and rehabilitating creeks and streams. In addition to large-scale cleanup, that means fixing leaky irrigation ditches, reconstructing eroding stream banks, re-planting native riparian vegetation, reducing runoff and sedimentation, and helping impaired streams in many other ways to create a healthier watershed and, ultimately, more vibrant riverside communities. At no other time in the river’s history has the potential for major rehabilitation

been so great. Landmark cleanup settlements have been finalized. Mine waste removal projects are finally underway. Partnerships are in place. Restoration dollars are flowing. And people are engaged in caring for their hometown rivers like never before. It’s truly “go time” for healing our headwaters. Read on to learn more about what’s in store in the Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Upper Clark Fork drainages, and find out how you can help the hard-working Clark Fork flow once again with cold, clean, and abundant water.

1. Start at the top. The most effective way to ensure a healthy watershed is to start upstream and work down. That means focusing on cleanup and restoration efforts in the headwaters of the Clark Fork: the Upper Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot drainages. Starting in these three sub-basins has the added advantage of fixing the most heavily impacted parts of the watershed first. 2. Rewater, reconnect,rehabilitate. Rebuilding the headwaters requires removing contamination, re-watering dry reaches, reconnecting tributaries and fish habitat, and rehabilitating degraded riparian habitat. These measures address all major water quality and habitat issues, not just those related to metals toxicity. 3. Use the Buddy System. Healing a complex river system means integrating restoration from ridgetop to river. With such an ambitious agenda there can be no solo acts. Success depends on partnering with a large array of stakeholders, including ranchers, landowners, water users, elected officials, agencies, funders, riverside communities, recreational interests, and streamside communities.



FLOW TO TH G N I R O T S E BIT RE TER ROO T BR EADBASKET Restoring flow is a winwin-win for irrigators, fish, and river. Extensive ditch systems dewatered tributaries and interrupted fish passage throughout the Bitterroot. The mining boom and associated growth of the railroad and timber industries in western Montana in the mid- to late-1800s drew thousands of people to the Clark Fork basin. This rapid population growth created a large demand for food to feed hungry workers and growing families. But high altitude towns like Butte and Anaconda have short growing seasons that could not keep up with the everincreasing demand. The relatively milder climate and greater water supply of the Bitterroot was much better suited to agriculture, and in time the

valley became the breadbasket for mining camps across the region. Fruit, vegetables, and dairy products made their way over Skalkaho Pass, and settlers built an extensive network of irrigation ditches and reservoirs to keep fields and crops watered. These irrigation systems were key to the growth and prosperity of the valley, but also had a significant impact on the Bitterroot River system. They led to altered channel flow, interrupted fish passage, dewatered tributaries, increased stream temperatures, reduced natural riparian vegetation,

Elsewhere in the Bitterroot, we are:

and increased erosion. Today that same system is facing decreased snowpack, record-setting heat, ever-increasing demand, and over-allocation. This combination of historic and modern-day challenges takes a big toll. During many summers the lower reaches of many creeks transform from productive waterways into dry rock fields. Fish and wildlife don’t do well when streams go unnaturally dry. Neither do the people who depend on them.

Improving water quality and flow in Lolo Creek, a major Bitterroot tributary, via a variety of projects with landowners, water users, conservation organizations, city leaders, and Lolo National Forest. Keeping more than 200 million gallons per year flowing in O’Brien Creek through a purchased water right (to be donated to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks for the purpose of in-stream flow), ensuring cold, clean water in an important bull trout spawning stream that previously ran dry each year. Guaranteeing 170 million more gallons per year flow from the reservoir to the mouth of Tin Cup Creek by securing legal recognition of the water right agreement we signed with water users in 2010.

Tracking the vital signs just got easier The Coalition seasonally monitors streamflow and water temperature at 28 different sites in the Clark Fork basin, an essential function for understanding the overall health of the watershed. The job often requires extensive staff time and hundreds of miles of travel each summer, but monitoring got a bit easier this year, thanks to a grant from the Mountaineers Foundation and generous contributions to the Pat Robins Memorial Fund. This support enabled the Coalition to purchase two new telemetry stations, allowing us to collect more information far more efficiently on two critical tributaries: Lolo and Ninemile Creeks. Armed with realtime streamflow and temperature data, we can immediately trigger conservation measures to keep these creeks flowing when conditions deteriorate.

A hundred years ago, food and timber from the Bitterroot Valley contributed to the success of mining in the Upper Clark Fork, aiding in the growth of Montana’s frontier communities. It’s a fitting bookend that today restored Bitterroot tributaries will once again contribute cool, clean water to the hard-working river at the heart of Montana’s mining legacy.

BRINGING BACK THE WATER To restore cold, clean water to this important headwaters system, the Coalition works with local irrigators, water districts, and other water users to find creative ways to alleviate dry spells in Bitterroot tributaries, remove fish passage barriers, restore flow, and



repair damage to stream banks and channels. One such project got underway this fall on Lost Horse Creek, south of Hamilton, where a major construction project will reroute an irrigation diversion so

that it flows under, rather than through the creek. This one project will restore millions of gallons of water to lower Lost Horse Creek, remove a major fish passage barrier, reconnect the creek to the Bitterroot, and restore native fish habitat (see page 16 for more details).

↑ Calibrating the telemetry station

↑ CFC Board members and conservation partners get an up-close view of a flow restoration project on Tin Cup Creek.

With your help, we could track stream health 24/7 via telemetry in more locations along the hundreds of miles of creeks that we monitor each year. Make it possible by becoming a member today at CURRENTS



Coalition supporters played a huge role in initiating the removal of the Mike Horse Mine tailings dam. ↑ Exploratory drilling at Copper Cliffs

GOODBYE, DAM TAILINGS Impacts from that dam breach still scar the headwaters of the Blackfoot, and the threat of another failure never went away. Nor did the acid mine drainage leaking from the dam.

MAJOR MILESTONES ON THE BIG BLACKFOOT The easternmost of the Clark Fork River’s major headwater tributaries, the Blackfoot River had its own role to play in Montana’s mining, logging, and agricultural history. Famous for epic log runs that jammed the river bank to bank, the Blackfoot valley was the source of hundreds of millions of board feet of timber that were processed at large mills located at the confluence of the river with the Clark Fork. A dam associated with the sawmills, which later generated hydroelectricity, blocked the river from its natural convergence with the Clark Fork for more than a century, preventing fish passage and disrupting the rivers’ natural function. (Milltown Dam at the confluence was also the site of massive mine waste contamination that was washed down from Butte in the 1908 flood). Meanwhile, upstream in the Blackfoot, intensive mining activities left tailings piles and other mine waste that leached toxic metals into the river. 8


It’s been a long haul from advocacy to action, but things are looking up for the Blackfoot.

But things are looking up for the Blackfoot. You may recently have chalked up a personal river milestone by floating it all the way through its newly-restored confluence with the Clark Fork River —a possibility that only emerged since the removal of Milltown Dam. It was a long haul from advocacy to action at Milltown, starting with federal Superfund listing in 1983 and continuing through to dam removal, remediation, restoration, and, finally, redevelopment. If you haven’t visited yet, don’t worry—it will remain free-flowing for generations to come, thanks to the passion and commitment of dedicated friends of the river. The last step in the threedecades-long project to rejoin these two epic rivers will be the opening of a new public access site and park at the confluence—slated for 2015. We’ll continue to track the development and opening of Milltown State Park in the coming year. Look for updates on our website and in eCurrents.

↑Shellie Haaland from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality explains the Mike Horse Mine remediation project. More good news can be found upstream, on the Blackfoot River. At the top of the watershed, contaminated, leaky, and high-risk tailings that had threatened the beautiful headwaters of the Blackfoot have at last begun their exodus to a safe and dry repository. The tailings dam, which spans two feeder creeks to this blue-ribbon fishery and is part of the now-defunct Mike Horse Mine, has posed problems for the river for more than half a century. In the 1940s miners built a dam from metals-laced tailings to create a shallow reservoir for their toxic mining waste. But the dam didn’t stay put. In 1975, the Mike Horse tailings dam blew out, polluting the entire Blackfoot and killing fish for miles.

A decade ago, Coalition supporters played a huge role in initiating the removal of Mike Horse dam, sending over 8,000 comments to the U.S. Forest Service in support of a permanent fix in the Blackfoot’s headwaters. That fix is now at hand. We’ve spent years tracking and monitoring plans and designs for this complex cleanup project, working with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Forest Service to ensure a safe solution for a very toxic problem. The resulting repository took almost a year to construct. The plan is to open it in phases so the agencies can cap sediments as they go. DEQ will continue to haul tailings to the mine waste repository for four years during snowfree periods, restoring the floodplain and riparian areas in the headwaters as tailings are removed. It took persistence to break through some modern-day logjams on the Blackfoot, but the work of the numerous supporters and advocates for the river over these many years is finally paying off. This critical headwaters stream will soon be safe from a massive pollution threat—running free and clear from top to bottom.

Keeping tabs on new threats In the headwaters of Union Creek in the Blackfoot’s Potomac valley, an outcrop of rock is stained iridescent blue and green with copper minerals. Called “Copper Cliffs,” these colorful rocks have tempted numerous miners for decades. Most recently, Kennecott Exploration Company, a subsidiary of the multinational Rio Tinto Group, has been exploring this potentially rich deposit. Investigations have been sporadic since 2005, but the pace picked up in the last two years as the company dug additional bore holes to define the extent of the ore body at Copper Cliffs. In public meetings, Kennecott is quick to emphasize that only 1% of the targets they investigate ever result in active mine sites, and that they still don’t know if this deposit is economically feasible to develop. We appreciate the company’s willingness to meet regularly with the public during their exploration process. But, although it’s too early to speculate on the long-term impacts of a mine here, we remain concerned about the environmental consequences any new mining would have for the Blackfoot. You can help us keep tabs on new threats to the Blackfoot River. Become a member, sign up for e-updates, or join the Water Watchdog Brigade at



THE UPPER CLARK FORK: LET THE TRANSFORMATION BEGIN Students help shape watershed change This year 100 Powell County High School students got their feet wet and their hands dirty for a firsthand look at the transformation going on in their backyards through a Superfund-focused Hands on the Ranch curriculum offered at Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch.

CLEANUP COMMENCES ON PRIVATE RANCHLANDS Our goal is to ensure that cleanup at Dry Nine years ago, the Coalition became Cottonwood sets a positive precedent, manager and part-owner of a riverside which, from the perspective of an cattle ranch in the mining-impacted Deer agricultural producer, means minimal Lodge Valley--smack dab in the middle of disruption to the ranch operations, no a 56-mile long hazardous waste complex. loss of income, no damage to agricultural The contamination found here, in the infrastructure, and an improved nation’s largest Superfund picture for ranch sustainability in site, was mostly deposited the Upper Clark Fork. From the in 1908 after a massive flood Some of the worst contamination river’s perspective, “positive” washed mine tailings laced means reconnected floodplains, with arsenic, copper, zinc, and is found near that cattle ranch. revitalized riparian areas, clean other heavy metals from Butte And that’s exactly what we were soil and water, and healthy fish all the way to Missoula, 120 and wildlife. miles downstream. coupled with landowners’ prerogative to “just say no” to the disruption, we figured it made sense to do a test run. To make it relevant, that would mean managing cows. So when a working cattle operation 20 miles upriver of

looking for.

Some of the worst of the contamination is found right about where our cattle ranch is located. And that’s just what we were looking for when we bought it. It was an unlikely pairing on the surface. After all, what does moving cattle, mending fences, and selling calves have to do with river conservation? In the Upper Clark Fork, it turns out, everything. Unlike the basin’s other Superfund sites (Milltown Reservoir and Silver Bow Creek), the Upper Clark Fork cleanup zone is a metals-laced river corridor that slices through private ground owned by more than 300 landowners, many of them ranchers. With so many livelihoods and lifestyles wrapped up in cleanup, 10


Deer Lodge came on the market, the Coalition and two conservation partners jumped in. Since then, we’ve approached Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch as “ground zero” for testing how a top-notch, scientificallysound cleanup will mesh with cattle ranching. As the first private ranch to undergo cleanup, it is a living classroom that can help demystify the restoration process for other private ranches and pave the way for broad landowner participation in a reclamation effort of historic proportions.

While we’ve been working with agencies on the cleanup plan for several years, wheels and dirt finally started moving at the ranch in July of 2014—and our neighbors are watching closely. In fact, we’ve asked them to look over our shoulders, and have solicited their input at every turn. Our neighbors have been ranching in the valley for generations, and have plenty to teach us about private rangeland conservation, natural systems of the river, and traditional ranching culture. They have also taught us a thing or two about where to add value within a working landscape set to undergo a massive transformation.

how it will all turn out. After all, we have a front-row seat to watch one of the world’s most unique river restoration stories unfold. We’re still high in the headwaters (just a few miles away from Butte and within the shadow of the iconic Anaconda smelter stack), we’ve got Our neighbors have so many miles to plenty to teach us about go. But cleanup very much adding value to a working isunderway.

Alongside the ranchers in the Upper Clark Fork, we are learning how the synergies of people, environment, and institutions are integral to accomplish conservation measures that improve the land and water. Now we can apply these lessons to the cleanup at hand. And we’ll continue landscape. to invite our neighbors’ invaluable input while being as transparent as possible about the process so that the next landowners in line can learn from our successes and failures. Things look at bit rough at the moment, but we’re excited to see

Let the transformation begin. Want to see the Upper Clark Fork’s transformation up close? Email to schedule a tour or volunteer work day at the ranch. More cleanup details on page 17

↑Aerial view of cleanup area on Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch – Summer, 2014

In the spring, 50 students collected baseline data at DCCR before cleanup crews broke ground, analyzing pre-cleanup soil contamination, as well as the general health of the river. They clamored into shallow pits to assess soil profiles, waded into the Clark Fork to collect and identify aquatic insects, and hiked through the floodplain to gather data on riparian plant health. In the fall, another 50 students visited a different (but nearby) site in the cleanup zone to collect and examine soil samples. The kids then analyzed the data and soil samples back in the classroom, and explored how the sites they visited might be developed after Superfund remediation, based on their findings. Many of these students have heard about the possibility of mining contamination cleanup along the Clark Fork for their entire lives. Now it’s finally happening. After getting a good hard look at what has been, this generation of Deer Lodge Valley residents will be the first in more than 100 years to know a Clark Fork River free of contamination and on its way to full health. Help engage more youth in the incredible restoration and recovery of the Clark Fork River. Donate today at CURRENTS 11

CONECTING COMMUNITIES TO THE RIVER The large-scale change taking place in the headwaters of the Clark Fork basin involves more than just our rivers and streams. This extraordinary revitalization includes everyone from pre-schoolers to retirees. The circle of care for the river keeps expanding, as more people jump in to repair, learn about, and enjoy our vital waterways.

WATER WALKS & TALKS: Exempt wells. Nutrient standards. Discharge permits. Lingering contaminants. It can be a confusing tangle of information, but concerned citizens stay on top of all the latest watershed news through our regular “Water Walks & Talks” series, featuring expert presentations, action opportunities, and field trips related to current river events and news. Left: University of Montana researcher Erick Greene explains how mercury found in Missoula’s osprey is helping to track toxics in the Clark Fork.

Read on to learn about the many ways people and communities connected to the river this year. If you’re an educator looking for watershed curricula, someone interested in volunteering, or if you just want to get more involved and informed, contact, or visit



The Creeks in the Classroom curriculum teaches kids about riparian health and the link between snowpack and streamflow through classroom learning, service learning days, and other hands-on activities. Left: Elementary school students eagerly learn about pollution, watershed basics, and how to ensure clean water as they participate in an “Enviroscape” exercise.

Landowners, natural resource agency professionals, educators, students, and others gained in-depth knowledge and skills through our dynamic technical workshops in 2014, covering topics such as fish screen technology, low-stress livestock handling, and bioengineering. Left: Participants visit a project site at a “Beaver Management in the Headwaters” workshop near Butte.



This experiential curriculum teaches kids about riparian habitats, aquifers, and threats to stream health and what to do to address them. Left: Middle school students help implement local riparian restoration plans by pulling weeds along Rattlesnake Creek during a service learning project.

KIDS RIVER EXPO: More than 200 sixth-graders participated in our 3rd annual Kids River Expo, a daylong learning event on watershed health, stream dynamics, aquatic life, pollution issues, fish life cycles, and more. The fun included exploratory learning stations, service projects (planting shrubs and removing weeds), and other hands-on activities and interactive games. Pre- and post-classroom visits rounded out the day to help kids synthesize what they learned. 12


Watershed Workforce Gets It Done

Wow! Our intrepid Volunteer River Corps (VRC) continues to impress us by applying plenty of passion along with a lot of hard work to help the watershed. In 2014, VRC members: - snowshoed dozens of miles to monitor snowpack at two sites in the Bitterroot - hauled tons of trash from hard-hit and hard-to-reach areas of the Clark Fork - wrapped trees along Missoula’s river trail to protect them from beaver damage - planted saplings and shrubs to restore degraded streambanks - pulled thousands of invasive weeds along sensitive tributaries - helped get the word out about CFC events, and - harvested more than 1,000 willows to aid in a stream stabilization project. And they show no signs of stopping! During the upcoming 2015 Legislative Session, VRC members in our new “Water Watchdog Brigade” will trade shovels for pens, standing at the ready to protect clean water through education and advocacy. Thanks to our tireless volunteers, the Clark Fork River is cleaner, healthier, and more resilient, and is certainly in very good hands! To join the VRC or learn more about volunteer projects, contact Ellie Rial at 406-542-0539 x200, or CURRENTS 13


↑ The Coalition and partners filed a lawsuit to prevent DEQ from giving a blanket “permission to pollute” at the former Smurfit-Stone mill site west of Missoula.

As you’ve read, the Clark Fork’s headwaters are bustling with projects, and the stars are lining up for basin-wide revitalization on a scale that matters and in a way that endures. This effort is about the long-term. It’s about deep change. And it’s about creating a new reality and a new future for one of the hardest working rivers in the West. We’ve come a long way from a “century of misuse” to a “century of restoration” in our relationship with the river. But even with that

remarkable forward progress, the watershed has seen its share of setbacks along the way—including those that stem from ineffective policies or status-quo practices that don’t have the river’s best interest in mind.

2014 was a busy year for revamping policies that impact clean water.

1 - Closing the exempt well loophole

2 - Limiting nutrient pollution

3 - Challenging the permission to pollute

For three decades, a loophole in Montana state water law allowed over-development of groundwater wells for new residential subdivisions, which threatened to further deplete already over-allocated creeks and streams. We began working on this issue 10 years ago, most recently by challenging the rule through a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. In October, the court ruled in our favor, closing the loophole and ordering the DNRC to draft a new rule. This victory already faces challenges in the 2015 legislative session from those who would like to return to the bad old days. Stay tuned as we work to keep this loophole closed for good.

You’ve seen plenty of it: that nasty green algae in many of our rivers and streams. It’s caused by excessive nutrients in the water (primarily nitrogen and phosphorous). Luckily, Montana recently released new rules that limit this kind of pollution in waterways across the state. This rulemaking is one of the most significant water quality gains in Montana in the past two decades. The Coalition has served on the state’s Nutrient Working Group since 2010 to help develop these rules, and we believe they offer a realistic and achievable path toward cleaner water. Next up: we will ensure these more protective rules stay in place, while also working with the state to improve nutrient rules for lakes, too.

It seems absurd to give a permit to a non-existent business. Especially when that permit allows the discharge of high levels of pollution into the Clark Fork River. The Coalition, along with Missoula County and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, filed a lawsuit in October to prevent The Montana Department of Evironmental Quality from giving a blanket “permission to pollute” to any future industry that might occupy the former Smurfit-Stone mill site west of Missoula. The draft permit would have allowed nitrogen and phosphorous to be dumped in amounts equal to what was allowed during the height of operations— far exceeding levels allowed for the entire city of Missoula today. We are well on our way to cleaning up what was once one of the biggest sources of pollution in the Clark Fork. This is no time to backslide. We’ll be tracking this issue in the coming year, while also keeping a close eye on cleanup plans and potential Superfund listing for this site.

2014 was a busy year for revamping policies that impact clean, cold, abundant water. Here are some of the key developments we’ve been tracking:

↑ Keeping people informed to help track water-related policies. 14



BRINGING BACK THE WATER ON LOST HORSE CREEK For the last 80 years, an earthen dam has been built each summer across the lower portion of Lost Horse Creek near its confluence with the Bitterroot to divert water from the river for irrigation. This dam cut the stream off from the Bitterroot River, blocked migrating fish, and dried up the last quarter-mile of the creek.

to secure irrigators’ water supply via a large underground pipe—removing the need for the seasonal dam. The system will deliver water more efficiently, reconnect Lost Horse Creek to the river, and allow bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout to once again migrate up to clean, cold headwaters in the summer and fall.

As this issue of Currents goes to print, the new siphon is in place and water is flowing freely in lower Lost Horse.

NITTY-GRITTY ON THE UPPER CLARK FORK CLEANUP: The Department of Environmental Quality expects the cleanup of private ranchlands in the Upper Clark Fork to take 15 years in all. On our ranch alone, construction and soil removal will take 400 days and the subsequent re-vegetation work will take several additional months. During that time contractors will:

BEFORE Historic 100 Year Floodplain

As a bonus, the project will also restore up to 1.4 billion gallons per year to Lost Horse Creek and ultimately the Bitterroot River during the summer and fall, improving water quality, decreasing water temperature, and increasing flow.

Unflooded Soil BEFORE

Exposed Tailings


Unflooded Soil

Buried Tailings

Cover Soil

Cover Soil Tailings Historic 100Mixed Year Floodplain & Soil Buried Tailings

Cover Soil Bank Full Flow Exposed Tailings


Clean Soil

Excavate and remove 533,000 tons of contaminated tailings from the banks and the floodplain along four miles of the river.

Cover Soil

Baseflow Mixed Tailings & Soil

Bank Full Flow Baseflow

Water Table (Fluctuates) Streambed Sediments

Clean Soil Water Table (Fluctuates) Streambed Sediments


Replant native vegetation in the riparian corridor to improve habitat, bank stability, and water quality.

Historic 100 Year Floodplain

Unflooded Soil



Create wetlands and waterfowl habitat.

Historic 100 Year Floodplain

↑Lost Horse Creek flowing free for

the first time in 80+ years.

Bank Full Flow Unflooded Soil


It’s a win-win-win for irrigators, fish, and the river that will breathe new life into lower Lost Horse Creek. It’s also a great example of what strong partnerships can do for hard-hit Bitterroot tributaries.

↑ Lower Lost Horse before the project. In 2012, the Coalition, in partnership with Ward Irrigation District, initiated an ambitious multi-year instream flow and habitat restoration project

Clean Soil

Restore two cold-water streams and reconnect them to the mainstem river.


Bank Full Flow Clean Soil


Reconstruct 190 acres of floodplain by partially re-filling it with clean soil to bring the elevation of the floodplain closer to the water table, which will generate more robust vegetation along the river.

Water Table (Fluctuates) Streambed Sediments

Water Table (Fluctuates)

The diagrams at left show a cross-section of the floodplain as it will look before and after these reclamation activities occur.

Streambed Sediments

↑Preparing pipe to route irrigation water beneath the creek.

↑Cleanup activities began on Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch in summer, 2014. 16




Clean it. Float it. Love it.

Healthy headwaters. Rivers on the mend. More people caring for the river than ever before. It’s all possible because of members like you. Thank you for renewing, inviting a friend to join, or making an additional donation today. Together we are ensuring the Clark Fork River flows clean, cold, and clear for generations to come. Thank you!

CLEAN IT. FLOAT IT. LOVE IT. RIVER SPONSORS MAKE IT HAPPEN Getting out on the river is twice as much fun when you’re also giving something back.

wrapping riparian trees to prevent beaver damage. The river is a healthier, cleaner place because of you!

In April, more than 900 community members gathered to clear nearly 10 tons of garbage and recyclables from the banks of the river at several sites in and around Missoula at the annual Clark Fork River Cleanup. A big thanks to everyone who helped, as well as to the dozens of volunteers who, throughout the summer, improved riverside trails by planting saplings, pulling weeds, clearing brush, and

In July, our partner ROW Adventures gave back in a big way, taking 60 teens from regional youth homes rafting down the Alberton Gorge for the annual Clark Fork Kids Float. A day on the river is always fantastic, but it’s especially memorable for a child who has never experienced the river up close before. As one participant told us, “This is the best day of the year.” We think so, too!

Events like these would simply not be possible without the support of our many partners, especially the dozens of local businesses that generously invest in connecting people to rivers. Special thanks to the Good Food Store and First Security Bank, along with our other key sponsors (see below). Because of you, more people than ever are joining in the effort to make the Clark Fork clean, healthy, and whole.


Give back to the river through your will, charitable trust, gift of stock or real estate, or by naming the Coalition as a beneficiary of a life insurance or retirement account.


You can benefit clean water by selling on eBay or Amazon! Visit or to get started.


Many thanks to Aveda and Aveda stylists around Montana for their generous support! We were proud to host Montana salon owners and Aveda partners at our Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch this summer to look at how their support is making a difference on the ground and in the river. We are grateful that the Coalition was chosen to be an Aveda Earth Month partner again in 2015. Stay tuned to our eBlasts and Facebook updates to find out how to be a part of it! To learn how your business can be a river partner, too, contact


Be an ambassador for clean water by hosting a house party or CFC event. The more river friends the merrier!


Honoring someone special? For those who want more river and less stuff, a gift to the Coalition is a great way to go!


It’s beautiful, it’s classy, and it helps protect clean water. Get the plate and never be far from the river you love!

since 18 8 5









Non­­— Profit Org. U.S. Postage PAID Missoula, MT 59801 Permit No. 569

P.O. Box 7593 Missoula, MT 59807

Thanks to you, our headwaters are healing Clean water is because of you. Donate today at

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