At the heart of Montana’s mining boom, the Upper Clark Fork fueled the growth of the state and provided the copper that electrified the nation. But the meandering headwaters of the Clark Fork paid a heavy toll–even running red at times–as the resulting pollution washed downstream and over river banks. Today, this watershed is the center of one of the most remarkable restoration stories in the world–a rare second chance for a hard-working river.
Mining and smelting operations at the headwaters of the Clark Fork delivered copper for electricity to the United States for over a century. Long before environmental laws were in place, a massive flood in 1908 washed millions of tons of contaminated sediment downstream and deposited metals in the floodplain for over 120 river miles. The contamination impacted drinking water wells and agricultural soils, and today the river functions at only 1/5 of its fishery potential.
Compounding the problem, the upper river faces additional challenges from drought, sediment loads, and dewatering. CFC has identified eight tributary streams along the first 43 miles of the river that are in dire need of restoration efforts and enhanced streamflows.
Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch: CFC purchased DCCR in 2005 with the help of two conservation partners in order to see and understand first-hand how the Superfund cleanup would impact a working cattle operation. DCCR is the first private ranch in the Upper Clark Fork Valley to undergo cleanup and restoration, and CFC is working to set a positive precedent for cleanup that includes minimal disruption to our working cattle operation, no loss of income for the ranch, and a cleanup and restoration that sticks. We also connect adults and young people to experiential learning activities and volunteer projects at Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch. Click here to read more about our ranch.
Superfund Cleanup: We have been advocating for Superfund listing and cleanup in the Upper Clark Fork since the Coalition’s inception. Now, the dream is a reality: the decade-long, 56-river-mile cleanup began in 2012 and the river is responding in a big way. We continue to supply technical input to state agencies in our dual role as advisor and landowner. In 2015, DEQ began cleaning up private ranchlands, including 4.5 miles of riverbanks on DCCR. Contractors will remove contaminated sediments from the floodplain and riverbanks, backfill with clean river sediment, and plant thousands of new riparian trees and shrubs.
Rewater, Reconnect, Restore: We believe that a river system is only as healthy as its tributaries, which is why we enhance the mainstem Superfund cleanup with integrated stream restoration projects that heal the headwaters in the Upper Clark Fork basin. Download our Aquatic Restoration Strategy here. The Coalition negotiates water leases that conserve irrigation water and add flows to dry or disconnected creeks. We also plan riparian habitat improvement projects and work to improve fish passage in partnership with landowners. Click here to learn more about featured stream restoration projects in the Upper Clark Fork.
Local landowners; Watershed Restoration Coalition; Natural Resources Damages Program; Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee; Clark Fork Watershed Education Program; Montana Department of Resources and Conservation; the State of Montana; Powell County; Anaconda Sportsmen; Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks; Environmental Protection Agency; Trout Unlimited, Montana Meat Co.; Montana Natural Resources and Conservation Services.