A major upgrade to Butte’s wastewater treatment plant will help clean up the headwaters of the Clark Fork watershed.
Well, for one, the wastewater treatment plant discharges to Silver Bow Creek – a Superfund site that’s seen tens of millions of dollars’ worth of successful mining-waste cleanup over the past 10 years. Before that, the creek was completely dead from metal-contaminated sediment in the floodplain for over a century. But even after cleanup – when heavy metals were out of the picture – the creek remained impaired below the sewage treatment plant. Something else was the culprit behind the degraded water quality.
It turns out that too much nutrient pollution grew too much algae, and that meant too little oxygen for fish. Instead of mayflies, there were leeches. Fish stayed away. Now, the new wastewater plant upgrade will incorporate a state-of-the-art membrane bioreactor, which will significantly cut the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous going into the creek.
When completed, Butte’s wastewater system will be one of the most advanced treatment plants in the state. Fish will begin to notice the difference about a year from now, and the capacity upgrade will be fully functional in two years. At the Clark Fork Coalition, we’re thrilled, and we commend all of the people in Butte and all of the state agencies who worked hard to get this done. It’s a huge win for Silver Bow Creek, and for clean water in the Clark Fork watershed.
– by Chris Brick, Science Director
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