What is Montana Without Its Rivers?

by jhwygirl

I ask that a lot lately, with all my writings on water rights and gravel pits.

So I came across an article on a joint effort of the Georgetown Lake Homeowners’ Association, the Granite Conservation District, Granite Headwaters Watershed Group and the Upper Clark Fork River Basin Steering Committee, which all joined together for a $109,000 grant from the Natural Resource Damage Program. The grant, coupled with $40,000 in matching funds from the DEQ, will allow a comprehensive study of water quality at Georgetown Lake.

In the article, it mentioned the state’s 303(d) list, officially named Montana’s List of Impaired Waters.

Never heard of that…so then I get to looking for the list, and through the information – the information doesn’t seem to be presented in a “list” form, so much as a database that you can search.


Seems here in Missoula, the rivers are doing a great job of supporting agriculture and industry, and not so much of a great job – or any job at all, in the case of the upper Clark Fork (and keep in mind the last data was 2006) – of supporting aquatic life, cold water fisheries, or, get this drinking water.

Some are partially supporting those things, and a whole bunch of others simply haven’t been assessed.

I won’t let my dog swim in the Clark Fork downtown. It’s filthy. I find it hard to believe that from Deerlodge to Missoula the Clark Fork is crap and from Missoula to the St.Regis it is in better shape. Or is it broken right there in Missoula so they can average out all the greater length with the 2 or 4 miles or so that weave through town? The part that is effectively a free-flowing nitrate river?

Remember the algae blooms of last year?

I wonder what the logic is that breaks up the stretches of rivers? Wouldn’t you think that the land uses, when they drastically change, play into it? As it is now, one section of the assessed Clark Fork runs from Deerlodge to the confluence of the Blackfoot and the Clark Fork. Then another from there to, basically, the Madison Street bridge. That makes sense (to me, at least). But then they take it from that point to about 3 river miles east of Tarkio. Huh? All the way through the City of Missoula, all the way through the zoned and well-developed area of the county – all the way past Smurfit Stone – and that is all one assessed area.

Does that make sense to you? Anyone?

I’m real curious what the water on paper water quality is of that stretch of the river from town to, oh, let’s say, Frenchtown. Shouldn’t that be something that it clearly makes sense to assess?

But then again – that might mean that Missoula would be forced to consider a far wider implementation of sewer for development, in the interest of protecting the state’s waterways. Instead of the overly-generous defacto rules currently in place that allow for one septic system per one acre of land.

Then again, there’s also that other overly-generous rule that exempts 35 gallon per minute wells from environmental review – one big SCREW YOU to senior water rights holders everywhere.

Wouldn’t want to impact developers, would we now?

I guess as long as you don’t have open sewage running off into the river, it all looks good. Now, seepage? That’s a whole other thing, but we can’t see that…

In all honestly – I find myself wondering what the 303(d) list does. Does it just make us aware? In a very unaware way? It is supposed to make us (don’t know who that “us” is, BTW) feel good? That we’ve “assessed” the rivers? Are we (the State of Montana) just doing that and walking away?

I mean – the State of Montana has been assessing waterways since 1996. Is that all we’ve been doing since 1996? It’s not like I’ve heard of any concerted efforts to remedy the issues.

Or is this one of those legislative feel-good things where some law was passed to assess the rivers, but no follow-up was done to see what we do once the assessments have identified issues?

Time’s a wastin’ on this stuff people. Consider asking your legislative candidate – whomever they may be – where they stand on water quality issues. Ask them specifics – ask them how they feel about exemptions for 35 gallon per minute wells. Ask them how they feel about septic seepage zones that lie outside of the lots which they serve. Ask them how they feel about having individual septic systems and 35 gpm wells exempted from environmental review.

Then vote accordingly.


  1. 1 MT Dept. of Agriculture Water Testing Finds Bad Stuff « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] of you might remember me writing about how filthy the Clark Fork is – so filthy that I won’t allow my dog to swim in it – and anyone who is hitting the Bitterroot in late summer can tell you that the release of this […]

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