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Three Rivers-12-clark-fork

A cormorant takes flight while searching for fish in the Clark Fork River near Frenchtown. Although just minutes from metropolitan Missoula, the Clark Fork west of the city gets very little boat traffic.

While lots of restoration and rehabilitation projects have improved Clark Fork River water quality, some river watchers are concerned a few tributaries have slipped through the cracks.

To fix that, a group of volunteers will gather Tuesday evening to lay some planning groundwork that will help those smaller projects qualify for federal assistance. Friends of the Clark Fork River will meet at 7 p.m. in the University Center Room 326 to organize the effort.

“We’re going to put them into one restoration plan instead of doing them piecemeal,” said retired University of Montana environmental studies professor Vicki Watson, who is leading the gathering. “The Blackfoot and Bitterroot rivers already have watershed restoration plans. The upper (Clark Fork) river above Drummond has one, and so does the river below the confluence with the Flathead River. Most of these projects are on small tributaries.”

They also target non-point source pollution: problems like field runoff, inadequate drainage culverts and poorly designed roads that dump loads of sediment into what could be prime fish habitat. A completed plan would allow projects to receive federal matching funds through what are known as Section 319 grants administered by the state Department of Environmental Quality for the federal government.

“It is all outside that Superfund cleanup,” Clark Fork Coalition science director John DeArment said, referring to the extensive federal work to remove old toxic mine waste from the Clark Fork watershed. He said that “319 grants in western Montana go to improving water quality for coldwater fish or making water that’s swimmable or suitable for industrial use. The EPA requires a deeper dive before any groups can get those federal funds.”

Stakeholders started meeting a year ago to lay the groundwork for the plan. Tuesday’s meeting will prioritize the streams and water sources most in need of repair work. Watson said anyone interested in a particular mid-Clark Fork water problem affecting Granite, Missoula or Mineral county is welcome to share their ideas at the meeting. Refreshments will be provided.

For more information, contact Watson at vicki.watson@umontana.edu.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.