MTPR

Milltown Dam

Remediation work at the Milltown Reservoir Superfund Site in 2008, Bonner Montana.
M. Kustudia (CC-BY-SA-3)

This spring Missoula celebrated the 10th anniversary of the removal of the Milltown Dam on the Clark Fork river east of town. Now, some people are saying that the old dam could have mitigated some of this year’s flooding.

On December 16, 2011, I was one of a couple hundred history-conscious Missoulians who walked onto a snow-covered bluff above the Milltown Dam abutment to see something you almost never get to see: a river tangibly restored. Below us, the Clark Fork began to spill down its reconstructed stream bed, joining the also-undamned Blackfoot River in free flow for the first time since the dam was built in 1908.

For 75 years, arsenic-laced waste from some of the world’s largest copper-mining operations accumulated behind Milltown Dam, located a few miles east of Missoula. Then in 1983, the dam, along with 120 miles of the Clark Fork River, was designated as a Superfund site. The 30-year saga of dam removal and clean-up is the focus of a book by David Brooks:  Restoring the Shining Waters: Superfund Success at Milltown, Montana.