State of the Clark Fork Basin, 2005

Vicki Watson

UM Watershed Health Clinic

Full presentation here

ABSTRACT:   Evaluating the state of the Clark Fork Basin requires that we periodically: 1) assess its condition & compare that to our goals for the basin; 2) determine whether the basin’s condition is getting better or worse; 3) evaluate our plans & on-the-ground actions for effectiveness; and 4) consider challenges that face us in meeting our goals. 

CONDITION & TRENDS--The basin’s condition in 2000 (when the last State of the Basin report was made) is compared to its condition in 2005 based on assessments made by MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFISH database) and MT Department of Water Quality (Water Quality Assessment Database). Both databases suggest the condition of the basin has improved since 2000, but some of this apparent trend is due to new information & changed definitions of impairment.

A detailed evaluation of levels of metals, nutrients, attached algae in the mainstem of the river reveal that in the last 5 years, metals & certain nutrient forms have decreased, yet one key nutrient (soluble N) and attached algae have stayed the same or increased. It is likely this is due to a drop in flows over this same period (resulting in less scouring of algae & dilution of this key nutrient).

PLANS--The MT Department of Environmental Quality is making progress developing water quality restoration plans for impaired waters in the basin, but many more plans must be completed in the next 7 years. The US Forest Service will soon release new Forest Plans for several of the basin’s national forests, calling for more active watershed restoration. Watershed conservation partnerships, large & small, are forming throughout the basin, increasing coordination & the ability of the basin to attract large investments in conservation. But plans & partnerships must be translated into on-the-ground actions.

On-the-ground ACTION in the basin is outstanding in certain areas. Many fisheries restoration projects are being executed by MFWP & USFS & private landowners. Superfund remediation projects are carefully coordinated with restoration work funded by the Natural Resource Damage Program. Going beyond remediation to restoration is healing the land & providing jobs to communities. The decision to re-naturalize Silver Bow Creek & the confluence of the Blackfoot & Clark Fork Rivers will likely pay great dividends in economic revitalization for these areas.  

CHALLENGES that will make it more difficult to achieve water quality goals in the basin include the rapid rate of population growth, low density urban sprawl, and continuing drought conditions.


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