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Dec 31, 2013


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Jeni Garcin-Flatow


First Phase of the Clark Fork River Cleanup Nears Completion


Helena – The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has successfully completed the bulk of the first phase of the Clark Fork River cleanup project near Warm Springs, Mont. The project to clean up old mining waste along the river began in March 2013 and will continue until 43 river miles are remediated.

Approximately 330,000 cubic yards of mine waste were removed from the floodplain and river banks. River banks were rebuilt to create stability and prevent erosion. An additional 180,000 cubic yards of clean rock and soil was put back into the floodplain and thousands of native shrubs, willows and other vegetation planted. The mine waste was transported to the designated Waste Management Area near Opportunity, Mont.

“It is a daunting and humbling task to revitalize a river that has been polluted for over 100 years. This first phase has been a great success for DEQ, our partners, and the people of Montana,” says DEQ Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “We appreciate the cooperation and support of all the people involved in the project and we look forward to moving the cleanup downstream.”

DEQ was in charge of the Phase I cleanup, with help from the Natural Resource Damage Program and the Environmental Protection Agency. Monthly stakeholder meetings included site tours, offering the opportunity for county officials, other state agencies, private stakeholders, landowners and the public to be involved.

“We took advantage of the once-a-month tours DEQ offered, and thought the cleanup went quite well – quickly and smoothly,” says Clark Fork Coalition Science Director Chris Brick. “Ultimately, we think this project will make the land and the river healthier and more productive in the long-term.”

Removing mine waste from the floodplain and stream banks keeps contaminated sediments from entering the river, protecting human health and improving fisheries and habitat for wildlife. Native willows, trees and shrub plantings quickly stabilize the floodplain. As an added benefit, the plantings provide better habitat for wildlife once becoming established.

The cleanup is occurring as a result of the nation’s Federal Superfund program. It is being paid for by a settlement with the Atlantic Richfield Company and is expected to take about 15 years, cost over $100 million and employ hundreds of people.

For more information on the Clark Fork River remediation project, please contact Brian Bartkowiak at 841-5043 or at or visit the webpage at

The Clark Fork River Operable Unit (CFR OU) is part of the Milltown Reservoir/Clark Fork River Superfund Site. The CFR OU includes the Clark Fork River from its headwaters near Warm Springs Creek to Milltown Reservoir, just east of Missoula. The heavy metals (cadmium, copper, zinc, and lead) and arsenic in the Clark Fork River are from historic mining, milling and smelting processes linked to the Anaconda Company operations in Butte and Anaconda. The majority of the cleanup will occur along a 43 mile stretch of the river from Warm Springs in Anaconda/Deer Lodge County downstream to Garrison in Powell County. This is known as “Reach A.” Phase I began at the bottom of Warm Springs ponds and extended the first 1.5 miles of the Clark Fork.

The primary source of contamination is mine waste mixed with soil in the river banks and historic floodplain. This contamination threatens human health and animal and plant life. The 2004 “Record of Decision” by the Environmental Protection Agency describes the cleanup plan, also called the Selected Remedy. In addition to the Selected Remedy, the Natural Resource Damage Program developed a restoration plan to speed up the recovery time for damaged water and land resources in and along the Clark Fork River. To the extent possible, the restoration plan will be combined with the Selected Remedy to maximize the use of resources.

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