Current Press Releases

May 09, 2012


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Robert Ray
Planning, Prevention and Assistance


DEQ and Flathead National Forest are Pleased to Announce a Watershed Success Story


The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Flathead National Forest (FNF) are pleased to announce that Big Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Flathead River, has been de-listed for sediment.

Big Creek is the first water body in Montana to have successfully completed the full water quality restoration process, which consists of identification of impaired water quality, development of a watershed restoration plan, implementation of restoration activities, and verification that the restoration activities were effective at eliminating the water quality problems.

DEQ Director Richard Opper said, “A cooperative effort between the state and federal government cleaned up a Montana stream. What could be better news than that? This example should be a model for cleaning up other streams around the state.”

Big Creek provides critical habitat for bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), a species listed as “Threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. Bull trout lay their eggs in a gravel substrate and the survival of early life stages of this fish is reduced when the spaces between gravels become filled with fine sediment. Historic road building and timber harvesting activities in the Big Creek watershed led to accelerated soil erosion and a substantial increase in the amount of fine sediment delivered to the Big Creek. Frequent monitoring by MT Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) revealed degraded fish habitat in Big Creek due to a large increase in the amount of sand and silt in bull trout spawning habitat.

As a result, DEQ added Big Creek to Montana’s list of waters with impaired water quality in 1996. Spurred by this listing, the FNF collaborated with DEQ to complete a watershed restoration plan in 2003. The plan prescribed a variety of best management practices (BMPs) for reducing sediment loads from controllable sources in the watershed. The BMP’s implemented by the FNF exceeded the plan recommendations and included:

decommissioning 60.6 miles of excess logging roads
culverts- 47 removed, 19 replaced (including 2 replaced with bridges)
improvements to 89 miles of roads to decrease stormwater run-off
re-vegetation of 25 acres of eroding uplands
working with FWP to improve the amount of large wood in headwater streams
Recent monitoring data has shown that sediment and stream conditions in Big Creek are now similar to conditions in streams with minimal human impacts. Most notably, there has been a substantial decrease in the amount of sand and silt in bull trout spawning habitat. Based on this data, DEQ removed sediment as a cause of impairment to Big Creek on the state’s list of impaired waters in 2012. EPA approved this action in April 2012.

For more information, please contact Patrick Lizon, DEQ Water Quality Specialist, at (406) 444-0531, or by e-mail at

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