Clark Fork Coalition works to clean river

High algae levels in Missoula

The Clark Fork River is getting dirty.

Green algae blooms are growing in the river in Missoula due to low water and high temperatures. But it's not just algae that's clouding the river; humans are littering sites  along the Clark Fork near  Missoula.
The Clark Fork Coalition has received numerous inquiries regarding conditions on the Clark Fork River due to the recent hot weather and low water conditions. Primary concerns are high algae levels, and trash accumulation at river access points.
High algae levels
·       What it is: Cladophora, a green algae that attaches to hard surfaces in shallow rivers and streams
·       Causes:
o   High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, also known as “nutrient pollution.” Sources of this pollution include wastewater treatment plants, agricultural runoff, urban and suburban runoff (ie, from fertilizers and detergents), septic systems, and naturally high levels of phosphorous in the Upper Clark Fork.
o   Lack of scour:  When snowpack and runoff is low, rocks are not tumbled in the current, which helps to remove algae. The Clark Fork has had minimal scour in the last two years.
o   Low flows: The Clark Fork in Missoula is currently running half of its long-term average for this time of year. Low flows encourage algae growth, and low flow earlier in the year exposes algae that would otherwise be starting to slough off later in the summer.
·       Impacts: 
o   Algae mats and decomposing algae remove dissolved oxygen from the water, which leaves insufficient oxygen for fish, insects, and other aquatic life.
o   Algae degrades water quality and creates an unsightly slippery surface that makes it difficult to wade or fish in impacted waters.
·       What’s being done:
o   DEQ permit requirements and voluntary reductions by wastewater treatment plants and mills have made big progress – these are typically the largest point-sources of nutrient pollution
o   Annual monitoring by the Tri-State Water Quality Council (Montana, Idaho, and Washington). More information and reports found here:
o   This is a complex issue with no easy, short-term fixes. But individuals, cities, and businesses in Montana can and have invested millions to improve conditions.

algae  in Clark Fork River in Missoula


What you can do:

o   Use only phosphate-free cleaners and detergents, including carpet-cleaning chemicals.
o   Avoid using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, especially near streams
o   Keep livestock out of streams, and keep manure or compost piles away from areas that could wash into streams.
o   Wash cars and trucks away from streams, properly dispose of automotive fluids, and clean spills with absorbent materials like cat litter instead of spraying off surfaces.
o   Properly dispose of paint, paint thinner, other solvents, and prescription drugs. Never dump these items down the drain.
o   Ensure your septic system is properly installed and in good working order:
§  See that it’s not overloaded, and is placed outside of flood-prone areas
§  Monitor your system annually and pump it out every 3 to 5 years
§  Consider replacing your old system with a modern, advance treatment system
§  Avoid driving over septic systems to prevent soil compaction
Trash at river access points

Both designated and user-created river access points receive a great deal of pressure during hot summer days. Daily maintenance and trash removal at each of these sites is beyond the capacity of local agencies. River users can play a big role in resolving this problem quickly and effectively.


trash at bandmann bridge in east  missoula, sha ron fishing access

The trash problem  at Bandmann Bridge, across from the Sha Ron fishing access site in east Missoula. 

What you can do

Follow “Leave no Trace” principles:
o   Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect the site before you leave.
o   Be prepared: Bring a garbage bag, repackage food to minimize waste.
o   Pick up after your dog, including removing bags from the site
o   Be respectful of other river-users, nearby landowners, and the river itself
·       Remember that any trash you leave can easily end up in the river, and may be harmful or toxic to fish and wildlife
·       Clean up any trash you may find, even if it’s not yours.
·       Educate your fellow river-users and set a good example: We treat our river right!
·       Carry a bag:  Pick up free trash bags at the Clark Fork Coalition or mesh bags from Ace Hardware or Orange Street Food Farm
·       Don’t trample streamside vegetation – use designated trails to access the river
·       Respect parking regulations - Plan ahead: arrange your own shuttle, hire a local shuttle company, or consider public transportation
·       Join the Coalition’s Volunteer River Corps and help with regular river cleanups . Contact Katie Racette at 406-542-0539 x212 or
For more information contact Karen Knudsen at the Clark Fork Coalition, 406-542-0539 x203. The information provided in this advisory is also available on the Coalition’s website, .


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