Silver Bow Creek Restoration

Elizabeth Erickson, WET, presenting proposal to TU group

It might be too wintry for fly-fishing, but it is the season for talking about fishing. The George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited had its first program meeting of the season a couple weeks ago, just a couple nights after Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks held a public meeting on proposals for setting hunting seasons for the next two years.

The TU meeting centered on the prospects of restoring the upper stretches of Silver Bow Creek through urban areas of Butte. The principal presenter was Elizabeth Erickson, of Water & Environmental Technologies (WET), and her presentation was in part a repeat of a presentation she made earlier in the week to other groups.

The planning process is an outgrowth of work imitated by the Restore Our Creek Coalition, and an Environmental Protection Agency statement that restoration and remediation efforts do not preclude creek restoration.

There are challenges to restoring Silver Bow Creek. The original creek channel is heavily polluted with mining wastes, goes through private property, goes through or under various infrastructure, such as streets, public utilities, pipelines, has storm water dumping into watershed, and wetlands. That is just a beginning of the challenges. Another issue is that it is on the edge of the Butte Civic Center south parking lot, the main public handicapped parking area of the facility, and Civic Center management would be concerned about losing any parking space.

The routing of the restored creek had a couple alternatives for reconnection, with the main choices of flowing into Blacktail Creek near the Chamber of Commerce building, or further downstream. The Blacktail Creek option is preferred because it is likely where Silver Bow Creek flowed originally. The downstream option isn’t preferred because water would have to be pumped over higher terrain, contrary to a goal of making the whole stream gravity-fed—already a challenge because of minimal change in elevation through the area.

Steve Anderson, another engineer at WET reported on cost estimates for the project, estimated to be $12,491,750, plus or minus 25 percent, ending up with a range of $9.3 million to $15.6 million.

Mark Thompson, vice president of Montana Resources, reported on the Pilot Discharge Project, the Atlantic Richfield-financed water treatment plant that is currently discharging Berkeley Pit water that has been treated and cleaned and is discharging into Silver Bow Creek.

He pointed out that it’s still considered a pilot project, in that the deadline for treating and discharging pit water isn’t mandated until 2024. He reports that the system is working and Montana Resources is treating and releasing as much water daily as is coming into the Berkeley Pit. They normally process some 5 million gallons per day (MGD) and the system has the capacity to process 10 MGD. 

Getting the treatment plan online has had challenges. “It’s like being a parent. There are lots of problems and issues—but the baby survives. We’ve never been off our daily goal of 5 MGD.”

Thompson also discussed the availability of adding Silver Lake water to Silver Bow Creek. Water from Silver Lake, west of Anaconda, but owned by Butte-Silver Bow County, currently flows in a pipeline to the Montana Resources site, with some being tapped for the REC plant and other businesses in the Industrial Park west of Butte. Thompson said 7 MGD could be released into Silver Bow Creek to maintain a streamflow of 5 to 15 cubic feet per second (CFS).

Casey Hackathorn, Montana TU staffer, for Upper Clark Fork watershed.

Casey Hackathorn, a Montana Trout Unlimited staffer with responsibilities for the upper Clark Fork river discussed current water quality issues on the upper Clark Fork and likely benefits of augmented stream flows, that could alleviate some current problems such as summer water temperatures and water quality.

An audience member asked whether a restored urban Silver Bow Creek would have fish, something a fishing group would like to know. Ms. Erickson replied, “That actually wasn’t part of our planning process.”

There are already brook trout and westslope cutthroat trout in restored portions of Silver Bow Creek and Blacktail Creek. Like that baseball field in Iowa, “Build it and they will come.”

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