|Healing Streams: On the Ground Restoration|
At the Coalition, we're working to restore all aspects of health to the river and its tributaries. Our goal is to re-water, reconnect, and restore feeder creeks and streams throughout the Upper Clark Fork. We're creating cleaner, healthier rivers through on-the-ground stream restoration partnerships with local partners in the basin, including landowner groups, government entities, conservation partners, and funders. In particular, we work closely with the agricultural community of the Upper Clark Fork as a landowner of Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch, a 2,300-acre working cattle ranch located near Deer Lodge. Our aim is to heal degraded and dewatered streams in the Upper Clark Fork valley-- all while providing education and outreach to inspire new river stewards for the future and help protect irrigated agriculture as a thriving, viable way of life.
The Superfund cleanup on the Upper Clark Fork mainstem (covering over 43 river miles between Butte and Missoula) offers a tremedous opportunity for an integrated, complete restoration in the upper stretches of the Clark Fork. With our partners, we're thinking holistically about what the whole river system needs, and aiming to work at a landscape-scale, not on isolated projects.
Our Before and After Vision for Restoration in the Upper Clark Fork:
Our restoration goal for the Upper Clark Fork is to re-water, reconnect, and restore. Today, we have a disconnected river. Over the next ten years, our work will reconnect the different parts of the system-- to connect fish and wildlife habitat across the landscape, and help fish reach historic spawning areas. We're focusing our improvements on areas of the river system that are still healthy-- i.e., where tributary streams might still have good native fish populations, but are disconnected by fish passage barriers or segments of disrupted habitat.
Where are we concentrating our efforts?
Given the huge window of opportunity, we're concentrating our restoration resources in the Upper Clark Fork. As Coalition supporters know, the upper Clark Fork River corridor (pictured near Deer Lodge at left), is a 120-mile reach between Butte and Missoula and is home to the nation's largest Superfund site. This reach of the basin is laced with arsenic and heavy metals-- the byproduct of 150 years of intensive mining and smelting in the basin's headwaters. However, cleanup efforts are already resulting in wide-ranging benefits for the river. At Silver Bow Creek in the headwaters of the Clark Fork, native fish are now returning to areas where they haven't been seen in decades. And at Milltown, the removal of Milltown Dam and the tons of toxic sediments stacked up behind it has created a restored and functioning natural floodplain at the confluence of the Clark Fork with the legendary Big Blackfoot. As Coalition Board member Paul Roos has stated time and again, "The Upper Clark Fork is a sleeping giant of a fishery." We're working to augment the cleanup of mine wastes on the mainstem with an integrated tributary restoration strategy that addresses dewatering from irrigation diversions, polluted runoff from agricultural lands, sediment-loading from logged-over hillsides, barriers to fish passage, and future impacts from climate change.
Why do we need to work on tributary streams?
A river is only as healthy as its tributary streams. If creeks are dewatered, degraded, or disconnected from the mainstem, then the overall health of the river system suffers. Superfund cleanup is underway on Silver Bow Creek and at Milltown-- and will soon commence in the Deer Lodge valley. Our targeted restoration on tributary streams will improve habitat, decrease stream temperature, decrease nutrients and sediment, remove fish passage barriers, and provide buffers to potential impacts from climate change. On Cottonwood Creek (pictured at left) we're working with private landowners and agencies to implement more efficient irrigation practices and remove obstacles to fish passage.
A healthy riparian area provides critical habitat, food, and shade to fish and other wildlife. In the Upper Clark Fork, many streams suffer from dewatering, mining pollution, sediment overload, and removal of native vegetation. An integrated resoration approach combines many activities to improve fish habitat, water quality, and stream function, including: removal of fish passage barriers such as dams or other infrastructure, cleanup of toxic mine sediments, re-grading or removing roads to decrease sediment discharge, adding more water to the stream through irrigation efficiency improvements or water leasing, or educating young people about the relationship between stream health and land management practices. We create incentives for private landowners to change water and land management practices, ultimately benefiting local economies as well as river ecosystems.
Who do we work with in our stream restoration efforts?
We work with a number of private landowners in the Upper Clark Fork Valley-- namely, we have leased or purchased water rights from several ranchers, and have also helped to implement switches to more efficient irrigation systems throughout the valley. We're studying the feasibility of projects that can help save money and energy costs for landowners and also keep more water in-stream for fish. In addition to private landowners and ranchers, we work with a host of partners and conservation groups on fish passage removal, sediment reduction, and re-vegetation projects, including: the Watershed Restoration Coalition, Trout Unlimited, Clark Fork Watershed Education Program, MT Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the MT Natural Resources Damage Program, the Deer Lodge Conservation District, Powell County High School, and local governments throughout the valley.
Download our Aquatic Restoration Strategy document that describes our integrated aquatic ecosystem restoration approach for the Upper Clark Fork.
NEW: Download our Working With Water brochure, which describes tools for landowners interested in participating in the Coalition's flow restoration program.
Where we work: This map illustrates the extent of our stream restoration efforts in the Upper Clark Fork:
Did you know? The Clark Fork basin relies "in part" on surface water for supplying public drinking water. Our "Healing Streams" program emphasizes restoration and protection of headwaters creeks and streams, which are linked to clean drinking water in our state. Download map as PDF.