July 28, 2006

Slate.com features a slide show essay on the removal of the Milltown Dam by cultural geographer Caitlin DeSilvey.  In Dammed Memories: A Montana River, Transformed she asks “What does it mean to restore an inhabited landscape? And what happens to the memories that live there?”

July 27, 2006

Doug Martin of the Natural Resource Damage Program recently sent this update on planning for the restoration work at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers.

Clark Fork above Duck Bridge

Martin writes:

The restoration planning for the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers near Milltown Dam has seen significant development since the draft conceptual plan that was first taken to the public in 2003. Extensive field work and analyses of data collected in 2004, 2005, and 2006 by the design team allowed the development of the new plan that validated the design concepts and criteria. In April 2005, a panel of four national experts in river restoration and associated fields reviewed and commented on a revised version of the restoration plan. The State integrated the peer reviewers’ comments into the revised plan and submitted the Restoration Plan for the Clark Fork River and Blackfoot River near Milltown - October 2005 to the public for comment. A public meeting was held on November 10, 2005, and there was a public comment period that ended November 16, 2005. The State responded to the public comment received.

A Scope of Work outlining the all the tasks that need to be completed for the finalization of the restoration design has been developed. Currently the State is collecting and preparing to collect additional information needed to finalize the restoration design. In addition, the State is working on developing Performance Criteria for the restoration activities. These criteria will provide the basis for the restoration design as well as providing criteria upon which the successfulness of the restoration action can be measured. The final design is scheduled to be completed in winter 2007. Aspects of the final design to be integrated with the EPA remedial design may need to be completed earlier to meet EPA’s schedule.

The State will be working through the final design process in a manner similar to EPA’s remedial design process; local groups representing a wide sector of the public will have an opportunity to provide comments on the restoration design as it is being developed. The State has invited Missoula County, CFRTAC, and the Milltown Redevelopment Group to participate in the review process. In addition, EPA, and their contractor the USACE, will be involved in the review of the final design.

July 24, 2006

The Monday Missoulian features a couple of articles relating to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Dept. and the Milltown cleanup. In the first one, the FWP plans to close portions of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers for the duration of the remediation and restoration efforts at the Milltown Reservoir, likely to be five years. The move, part of the Site Access and Control Plan for reservoir cleanup, would close the Blackfoot for a mile and half above the dam and the Clark Fork from a half-mile below the dam to three miles above it beginning September 1. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission will decide on the issue at its meeting in Missoula, August 3.

The second article reports that the FWP Dept. is calling on the public to help it by simply not disturbing its monitoring fish cages. Recently, vandals destroyed one of the fish cages below the Milltown Dam. The cages are essential to the department’s effort to monitor the effects of the cleanup work on fish populations in the lower Clark Fork. “We just need people to leave our cages alone,” said David Schmetterling, a FWP biologist.

July 21, 2006

Newly released is the preliminary design report for the bypass channel (PDF) of the Clark Fork River through the Milltown Reservoir Superfund site. This is a critical piece to the removal of more than two million cubic yards of contaminated sediments in the reservoir and hauling them to the BP/ARCO repository near Opportunity. The report presents the preliminary designs for the bypass channel excavation, dewatering/water management, berm construction, sediment stockpiling and more. It also includes a preliminary construction schedule.

A design review team meets Tuesday, July 25 to discuss the report. A special review committee will also be convened to look at how the bypass will affect fish passage for the threatened bull trout. Check back soon for CFRTAC’s comments.

The report with all the appendices is also available at Envirocon’s FTP site.
Here’s how to download a copy of the report:

Click on the following link ftp://public:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it./ and an ftp session should open in your internet browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc).

You should see the folder “Stage 1C Element 1 PDR”. Open this folder and the various PDF files making up the report will appear. Because of their large file size, report appendices are provided as separate PDF files to reduce download time for those only interested in certain portions of the report.

Drag and drop the desired files from the ftp window to your desktop (or other directory where you would like the files to reside) and allow them to download to your computer.

Do not attempt to open the files directly from the ftp window.

If you have any problems downloading this file call Zac Collins in EMC2’s Bozeman office at 406-522-0251 for technical support.

July 21, 2006

A bacterial infection, likely caused by high water temperatures and stress from the turbid spring flows of the Clark Fork, led to a die-off of caged fish below the Milltown Dam, according to an analysis by the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

In update from FWP’s David Schmetterling, the agency received results from a histological evaluation – a post-mortem analysis — of fish collected from the Clark Fork River downstream of Milltown Dam at two locations between June 26 and July 1. A US Fish and Wildlife Service analysis concluded that the fish ultimately died from a systemic bacterial infection, though the cumulative stress of turbidity (sediment-caused murkiness) and high water temperatures left the fish vulnerable to infection.

FWP resumed monitoring caged fish on July 11 at six locations in the Blackfoot, Clark Fork and Bitterroot rivers. Among the new fish, there have been 2 mortalities in the Blackfoot River, and none in the Clark Fork River at Turah or downstream of the dam.
But with temperatures heading this week into triple digits, the agencies warn that more fish mortalities are possible.

Also see today’s Missoulian coverage.

Read more from the FWP update from David Schmetterling:

[T]he bacterial infection, though the ultimate cause, is just a symptom of underlying systemic and cumulative stress that made this fish susceptible to the bacterial infection coupled with high water temperatures. As I mentioned earlier, it is not temperature alone that killed fish, since water temperatures were higher or similar at control locations, though mortality was much less. Gills of the fish were in good shape, and it dies not appear that there was physical trauma to the epithelial cells, as we have seen in fish in the Blackfoot River or downstream of the Blackfoot river in the past because of a high amount of sediment. Livers and kidneys of the fish from the Clark Fork River downstream of the dam showed deterioration consistent with poor water quality and, as in the past, showed deterioration over time with exposure.

Similar to the contention that systemic stressors are responsible to the mortality of caged fish downstream of Milltown Dam. Fish are readily feeding (there stomach were full of insects), yet they had no muscle mass or fatty deposits. This speaks to poor condition and systemic stress. As an aside, we feed fish in all cages and all location with the same amount of fish food daily.

Based on histology and physical evidence of fish in field chemical super-saturation may be at least partially responsible for fish heath and mortality. Several fish have had external symptoms of gas bubble trauma, and histological studies confirm. However, at this time, it is not known if it is nitrogen super-saturation or other. In addition, Myxobolus cerebralis (whirling disease) was found in fish downstream of the dam, but the parasites were not well established, and were not responsible for the mortality of caged fish. The whirling disease parasites were also found in fish from these same location in 2005, and there was not mortality associated with them either (the majority of mortality occurred in the Blackfoot River).

One of the more interesting results from this years’ monitoring was the large amount of mortality of the free-roaming, wild trout implanted with radio transmitters. Interestingly about 30% died about 6-8 days prior to caged fish and prior to the dramatic increases in water temperatures. It is likely that these fish died, although they were larger and older, in response to a systemic stress, and similar to the caged fish, but it happened much earlier because of the chronically depressed condition of wild fish in the river downstream of Milltown Dam. Although it may be counterintuitive, it is likely that the caged fish are not more sensitive to changes in the environment as older wild fish since the caged fish have not been exposed to conditions in the Clark Fork River. As a result, wild fish may have much lower thresholds to a perturbation (like we saw this year) and the caged fish may take longer to respond to changes. The benefit of the shorter exposure time to conditions in the Clark Fork River is also evident in consistent declines in organ condition and fish health over time.

July 21, 2006

Read the latest from the EPA (PDF) on the reservoir draw down, the bridge work, wells and groundwater quality, redevelopment and much more.

July 18, 2006

Today’s Missoulian featured an article on a public meeting on the bridge work that will go on in Milltown in advance of the Superfund cleanup at the Milltown Reservoir. Five bridges span the Blackfoot River through Milltown and all will need upgrading or replacement (in the case of the pedestrian bridge) to withstand the river’s current once the dam is removed. The work, estimated at more than $6 million, is currently in a design phase but is slated to start in September.

July 14, 2006

The Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee is looking for a part-time field representative to work in the Deer Lodge Valley. For this contract position, the candidate should have strong communication skills, technical knowledge of Superfund and relevant agricultural issues, and familiarity with the Deer Lodge Valley. Experience with nonprofit groups is also desirable. The contractor should be able to work from a home office in Powell, Anaconda-Deer Lodge or Silver Bow Counties. Check out the complete job description (PDF).

July 14, 2006

Montana Public Radio commentaries this summer have highlighted redevelopment plans in Milltown and local concerns about the BP-ARCO repository near Opportunity. Sue Furey, a member of the Milltown Redevlopment Working Group, gave July’s commentary (PDF) and George Niland, a CFRTAC board member and Opportunity resident, offers community perspectives in June’s commentary (PDF).

July 6, 2006

Monitoring of caged fish by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Dept. has shown significant mortality, causing the EPA to halt the drawdown of the Milltown Reservoir. Caged fish below the Milltown Dam have shown 100 percent mortality. And why that happened is still a mystery, though agency officials believe it may be linked to high temperatures of late. And until those temperatures drop, the EPA has halted the drawdown, which is now at more than nine feet.

For more on the fish kill, see the Missoulian coverage or the EPA media advisory below:

Milltown Reservoir Draw Down Progress

Helena, Montana —

The draw down at the Milltown Reservoir which began on June 1, 2006 has been proceeding as planned and the water level has now dropped more than nine feet. EPA and Montana Department of Environmental Quality are working with their partners (Envirocon, Missoula County, the University of Montana, the US Geological Survey, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks) to monitor fish health, surface water, and groundwater during the draw down. The monitoring plan is in place and working as envisioned.

To monitor fish health, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has set up cages of fingerling rainbow trout above and below the Milltown Dam. In addition, free roaming fish have been tagged with radios to monitor movement and their survival. The caged fish are very sensitive and serve as an early warning system, alerting authorities to possible stresses on fish. Recently, there have been an increased number of fish mortalities in these cages even though the metals, turbidity, and total suspended solids readings have been low. During the past week, there has been 100% mortality of the caged fish in the Clark Fork River below the Milltown Dam and in the Clark Fork River below the confluence with the Bitterroot River. Comparatively, approximately 23% mortality was seen this year in the control stations in the Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River and Clark Fork River above the dam, and less than 10% mortality at the Clark Fork sites in 2005 when there was no drawdown. Free roaming fish have also had unusually high mortality, corroborating the results of the caged fish.

Not all the information has been collected and analyzed to understand the mechanisms for this mortality. Results are preliminary and should be interpreted with caution.

Recent and predicted continued high temperatures are adding stress to all fish in the river. Therefore, EPA, in consultation with Montana DEQ and Fish, Wildlife and Parks, will maintain the current water level until river water temperatures drop and the fish are less stressed.

The monitoring system is working and EPA and FWP are taking the necessary steps to protect aquatic life and ensure a healthy, productive fishery in the Clark Fork River.

To date, the surface water monitoring results have been low, much less than was predicted for total suspended solids, dissolved metals, and volume of material scoured from the reservoir. In fact, the dissolved metals detected below the dam were transported from upstream of the reservoir.

A network of monitoring wells has been set up as part of the ground water monitoring program. Missoula County, with funding from EPA, is monitoring the water levels in area wells. EPA has paid for replacement of 10 wells at risk of going dry as the draw down proceeds. Missoula County, again with funding from EPA, has free test kits for residents who want to test their wells for arsenic.

The Milltown Reservoir cleanup project is on schedule with work on the bridges< over the Blackfoot River planned for this fall and removal of the Milltown Dam planned for spring 2008.

The Milltown Reservoir draw down signaled the start of Phase I of the Remedial Action and cleanup activities for the Milltown Dam. The draw down is permanent and necessary for a number of reasons: 1) Allow additional site exploration to help in design; 2) Allow precautionary stabilization work on the I-90 and Highway 200 bridges crossing the Blackfoot River; and 3) Set the stage for other needed site work this fall.

For additional information about the Milltown Project, please visit the following websites:

Monitoring data:

Site-related design documents:
ftp://public:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it./

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