Mining and smelting operations at the headwaters of the Clark Fork delivered copper for electricity to the United States for over a century. Long before environmental laws were in place, a massive flood in 1908 washed millions of tons of contaminated sediment downstream and deposited metals in the floodplain for over 120 river miles. The contamination impacted drinking water wells and agricultural soils, and today the river functions at only 1/5 of its fishery potential.
A decade-long, 56-river-mile Superfund cleanup began in 2012 and the river has shown a positive response. In 2015, DEQ began cleaning up private ranchlands. Contractors will remove contaminated sediments from the floodplain and riverbanks, backfill with clean river sediment, and plant thousands of new riparian trees and shrubs. Our partners at Clark Fork Coalition continue to provide input and resources for the restoration efforts along the Upper Clark Fork as they learn from the clean-up projects on their Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch.