Hydrodynamic Devices (HDDs) in Butte-Silver Bow County

In 2013, Butte-Silver Bow County (BSB) began installation of six hydrodynamic devices (HDDs) at the base of the Butte Hill. HDDs capture approximately 70% of sediments, trash, debris, and oils in stormwater. The six HDDs are located strategically at the bottom of stormwater drainage basins in Butte. Though stormwater is not treated before entering Silver Bow Creek, HDDs are simple, yet effective, engineering tools that result in water with fewer suspended solids flowing into the creek.

BSB inspects the HDDs at least every three months, and regularly vacuums them to remove sediment and debris. Maintenance is important to ensure that the HDDs work properly. Vacuuming the HDDs prevents flooding and scour damage to the HDDs.

Since installing the HDDs, the total suspended solids (TSS) flowing into Silver Bow Creek have decreased significantly, and BSB did not have an exceedance of TSS in the first reporting period of 2014.

Category: Environmental News · Tags:

What do you mean by “dead zone”?

By Dr. Arlene Alvarado, Education Coordinator

Question:  Many students expressed concern about the ‘dead zone’ on Silver Bow Creek near the waste water treatment plant.  They asked, “What do you mean by ‘dead zone’?”

As I wrote in my last column [Montana Steward, 2014, Vol. 4 (1)], for over 100 years Silver Bow Creek was functionally dead, meaning it could not support the biodiversity typical of a Montana mountain stream.  The damage to the creek was mostly due to historical mining practices.  Silver Bow Creek is doing much better these days, now that mine wastes have been removed, the stream banks have been rebuilt, and the riparian habitat has been revegetated.  Silver Bow Creek is certainly showing signs that it is coming back to life as evidenced by trout returning to the creek.  However, all is not perfect.   Data collected by several researchers, including Beverly Plumb, a graduate of Montana Tech’s Geochemistry Graduate program and her advisor, Dr. Chris Gammons, has shown that Silver Bow Creek (SBC) is suffering from hypereutrophication as it flows between Butte and Rocker.  This 4-mile stretch of creek that starts just below the waste water treatment plant has been dubbed the ‘Silver Bow Creek Dead Zone.’  In order to understand what is meant by a ‘dead zone’ in a stream, I will first explain the term ‘hypereutrophication,’ then review some basic chemistry and the biological requirements of aquatic life, most especially, trout. To understand ‘hypereutrophication,’ let’s break this long word down into hyper- and eutrophication.   Hyper- is a prefix that means ‘excessive, above normal, high, or over’; so for example, hyperthermia means ‘high or elevated body temperature.’  Eutrophication is a word that originally meant one thing, but has now come to mean something else.  Originally, eutrophication meant ‘nutrient-rich’ and was derived from the Greek word, eutrophia which means ‘healthy, adequate nutrition.’  It was used to describe the natural process of aging in lakes or ponds, as the concentrations of plant nutrients built up over very long periods of time.  This aging process, however, can be accelerated by human activity that result in the input of nutrients beyond what the aquatic system can handle.  Because human-caused eutrophication has become so common, the word eutrophication now has a negative connotation and has come to mean ‘a very harmful increase and acceleration of nutrients’ in water bodies.  It is more accurate, however, to call a naturally-aging lake or pond that is nutrient-rich, eutrophic, and a water body that is experiencing excessive nutrients (more than the system can handle) caused by human activity, hypereutrophic.

You may now be wondering how hypereutrophication is related to the fact that Silver Bow Creek has a 4-mile dead zone.  Put another way, why and how do excessive or high nutrient levels cause a dead zone in the creek?  To answer that, let’s review some basic plant biology.  In addition to carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, plants need nutrients (food) to develop, grow and reproduce.  Three of the most important nutrients plants need are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and these are the three elements you find in most packaged plant fertilizers.  Similarly, algae depend on these nutrients for their growth.  When excessive amounts of these nutrients enter a water body, such as Silver Bow Creek, algae and plants will respond with rapid growth – much faster than would happen under natural eutrophication.  As they say, “Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.”  And this is true of excessive nutrients entering water bodies. Where do the nutrients come from?  Excessive nutrients result from many sources – industrial and agricultural discharges into water, fertilized lawns and parks, as well as detergents, animal waste, septic systems, and also from waste water treatment plants that treat human waste.  Fertilizer, human waste and animal waste are loaded with high levels of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.  When this ‘plant food’ enters a water body, it causes rapid growth of algae and aquatic plants, as mentioned earlier.  Besides physically interfering with normal aquatic processes, such as blocking sunlight and creating obstacles for aquatic life, this excess in growth of photosynthetic organisms (plants and algae) results in lower-than-normal dissolved oxygen concentrations.  Dissolved oxygen is vital for aquatic animals to survive and thrive, especially the gill-breathing insects and fish.      Perhaps you are wondering why rapid growth of photosynthetic organisms in water bodies results in decreases in dissolved oxygen concentrations.  To answer that, we need to briefly review photosynthesis and respiration in plants and algae.  We all know that photosynthesis is how plants and algae make their food.  During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, water and sunlight (photons) are converted into sugar and oxygen.  But what happens at night, when there is no sunlight?  During the dark hours, plants and algae metabolize (burn) the sugars they created during daylight hours to yield energy for growth, reproduction and other life processes.  Like animals, they consume oxygen in order to power their metabolic processes.  Therefore, the greater amounts of plants and algae in the water, the more oxygen they consume during nighttime. An overabundance of plants and algae consumes oxygen that would normally be available to fish and insects for their metabolic processes.   So, when streams, rivers, lakes and ponds experience hypereutrophication, we see plants and algae consume greater amounts of oxygen, which decreases the availability of oxygen for animals.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The abundance of plants and algae in the water also means more dead, organic material in the water.  Guess what the bacteria that feeds on dead organic matter uses to do their decomposing?  You guessed it —


So, not only are plants and algae sucking up dissolved oxygen from the water, but so are the bacteria that decompose dead organisms.  Dissolved oxygen levels decrease so much that the fish and insects literally suffocate.   In Silver Bow Creek, a big source of excess nutrients is coming from our waste water treatment plant.  Luckily for us and our Silver Bow Creek, Butte’s waste water treatment plant is being upgraded to help reduce or eliminate discharges of excess nutrients.  This is great news for our creek.  However, another source of excess nutrients is our backyards!  When we apply lots of fertilizers to our lawns and gardens, rain storms and melting snow washes lawn fertilizer away and carries it directly into our creek.  There are ways to minimize your contribution to excess nutrients in stormwater.  For example, the use of liquid fertilizer instead of pellets ensures that the fertilizer gets taken up by the plants in your yard and not just washed away.  Additionally, time of year and time of day, and the concentration of the fertilizer are important factors to consider when applying fertilizer and protecting the creek.   For more ideas on how you can help to keep our stormwater safe for our creeks, check out the Stormwater insert in this issue.

Category: Education News · Tags:

Birds Eye View Education Program


Are you curious about Montana’s birds?  Join the University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab for a morning of bird banding

At one of these locations: 


Valley of the Moon Nature Trail on Rock Creek

Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS in Deer Lodge

MPG Ranch near Florence (by appt. only)



The University of Montana has been awarded grants from the State of Montana’s Natural Resource Damage Program and the MPG Ranch to educate the public on healthy river ecosystems, the ecological effects of past mining activities, and current restoration projects along the Clark Fork River. Our Bird’s-eye View Education Program will run several times a week, from June – mid-August at bird banding stations.  These events are free and are appropriate for kids and adults of all ages!  Come and gain a bird’s perspective on past mining activities, riparian areas, and what current restoration efforts mean to them.


What can you expect to see & learn by visiting our bird banding station?  

Observe birds “in the hand” and find out what a “brood patch” is.

Learn why biologists capture and band birds & what kind of data we collect.

Gain bird ID skills and learn a few common bird songs.

Find out why riparian areas are so important to birds.

Learn the history of mining activities in the Upper Clark Fork Basin and the effect those activities had on bird communities.



  Rock Creek Grant-Kohrs Ranch MPG Ranch*
Sun, May 31 Mon, June 1 Tues, June 2
Mon, June 15 Sun, June 14 Sat, June 13
Wed, June 24 Thurs, June 25 Tues, June 23
Thurs, July 2 Tues, July 7 Wed, July 1
Thurs, July 16 Mon, July 13 Tues, July 14
Thurs, July 23 Wed, July 22 Fri, July 24
Wed, August 5 Tues, August 4 Mon, August 3

*By appointment only, call Mike at 243-2056



Visitors should plan to arrive at either 7:00 am or 9:00 am in order to participate in our

The University of Montana is excited to continue our partnership with our long-time colleagues at Cfwep.org. This partnership provides a unified source for watershed education in the Clark Fork drainage as it relates to damages from a century of mining. We offer both school-year programs and summer programs to children and adults throughout the Clark Fork River Basin.

Through the staff and faculty here at UM, we run three diverse programs that reach out to our community with engaging science education:

  1. A week-long watershed education program aimed at 5th grade students in the Missoula County Public Schools, as well as Bonner and Clinton middle schoolers (administered in the spring and fall). The program is comparable to the Restoration Education Program (REP) program run by Cfwep.org to schools within the Superfund geographical site. Our program incorporates University students who train as interns – these interns learn the education materials and gain invaluable experience presenting material to school-age children in a way that is clear, simple and engaging. Our children, turns out, love the energy! University students bring enthusiasm and knowledge into their classroom and the young students welcome us.
  2. Two summer programs that use birds as the catalyst to learning about the health of our watershed:
    1. Osprey program – Through our Osprey program, we study Osprey chicks in nests along the Clark Fork river. These chicks, given Osprey’s behavior and natural history, are fed solely on fish from the Clark Fork river. By taking feather clippings and small blood samples from Osprey chicks, we can measure the level of heavy metals in their blood and tissue that originate from the Clark Fork aquatic ecosystem. Visits to Opsrey nests with local schools and camps allow children and community members to see Osprey chicks up close and see scientific research in real time. This program is by far a big time favorite for both us and the public!
    2. Bird banding stations – our songbirds are also affected by the health of our watershed. Occurring in the spring and early summer, we capture songbirds at two sites along the Clark Fork drainage and collect information regarding the birds’ health and breeding condition. This, in addition to number of species and individuals, provides us information about the level of biodiversity our riparian habitat is sustaining. This program is another favorite of citizens and children. How often does one get to see songbirds in the hand?

For more information, please email megan.fylling@umontana.edu (summer programs) or dalit.guscio@mso.umt.edu (school-year programs).

Category: Education News, Environmental News · Tags:

Montana Tech


Category: Education News, Environmental News · Tags:

1908 Flood influenced what we are now.

Butte was booming in 1908. For all practical purposes, the War of the Copper Kings was over, even though the Anaconda Company would not completely consolidate its ownership of nearly every mine and more until after William Clark died in 1925. After Augustus Heinze was out of the picture in 1906, money that had been tied up in litigation freed investors to build, build, build. The building boom of 1906-1907 saw some of the grandest construction efforts ever undertaken in Butte’s business district.


Among the buildings erected in that two-year period were the Metals Bank, Phoenix Block, Silver Bow Club, Leonard Hotel, Napton Apartments, the Water Company building (built initially for the Intermountain Telephone Company), the Carpenters Union Hall, the First Baptist Church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and much more. The county’s population – mostly within the built-up area of Butte – was nearly 57,000 in the 1910 census, a gain of more than 20% since 1900. And in 1908, the city directory listed 324 named mines.


With all that construction, attention was also finally paid to street paving and sidewalk construction. In June 1908 the city council was looking at a huge project to permanently pave sidewalks on residential streets all around the central business district, including much of Granite, Quartz, and Wyoming. Wooden walks were on the list for Woolman, Copper, Henry and Front, as well as much of the East Side. Street paving was in the offing for the near West Side including West Granite and Broadway, Idaho and Washington. But until the paving was completed a few years later, ruts and gullies must have been common on unpaved streets, and boardwalk sidewalks, where present, could have washed out easily.


Unpaved roads, walkways and extensive mine operations all over the Hill – just imagine 324 mine dumps, some huge, some small – meant that stormwater would likely have not just run off, it would have run off carrying plenty of dirt and debris with it.  Both in the city and nearby, pretty much all the trees were gone. Summit Valley’s forests, such as they were, were exploited early on for fuel in smelters, timbers in mine drifts, and wood for building construction. The land was bare. Mine tailings and sewage alike were discharged into Silver Bow Creek.


Silver Bow Creek, where it crosses Montana Street and flows between the historic slag walls from the Colorado Smelter, was highly constricted there. Upstream, wetlands had been drained to accommodate construction of smelters on the east side of the Hill, in Meaderville and points south. The stream was already nothing like the original creek that the first prospectors in 1864 likened to a silver bow glistening in the sun. There was little to prevent mass runoff and flooding.


Late May and early June, 1908, were some of the wettest days in Montana history. Rain, wet snow, and snowmelt combined to produce one of the most devastating floods to ever hit the region. On May 31, 1908 a cloudburst at Columbus took out a mile of Northern Pacific track. In Butte, there was “too much snow” for Memorial Day services, and the parade was cancelled. On June 2, Butte received 0.9” of rain, part of a storm system that affected most of western Montana and disrupted train travel. On June 2, a washout at Bonita, about thirty miles east of Missoula, resulted in a train plunging off the track, killing one man. By that day, there had been no through train into Butte for 48 hours on the Northern Pacific, whose trains were stalled in Billings and at Drummond. And it continued to rain and snow. At Elk Park on June 2, the Butte Miner reported that “the flat resembled a huge lake, and the Boulder River is a raging torrent.”


June 4, 1908, was a Thursday, and the devastation really began to impact Butte. The dam at White’s Ice Pond (Alcova Reservoir, where the Butte Country Club is today) failed. Water rushed down to Silver Bow Creek, already swollen, which inundated the Montana Power Company substation at Oxford and Montana Streets, where the water was four feet deep. Silver Bow Creek was reported to be a mile wide. And on June 4, the rain changed to snow. Nine inches fell that day, dropping power lines all over the city. Any power that remained to transmit was cut off to avoid electric shocks from downed lines – a team of horses from the Lavelle Livery was electrocuted at Park and Washington, and several residents narrowly escaped the same fate. “Plague of Darkness Reigns,” the red-ink headline in the Butte Miner proclaimed. No street lights, no electric trolleys, no other power – except for the central business district, Park to Granite and Montana to Wyoming, most of which was served by the Phoenix Power plant in the alley south of City Hall.


By June 5, the situation with railroads was the “worst in history” in the state. Problems extended from Great Falls to Billings, and Butte to the Flathead, with landslides and washouts completely shutting down train travel. The Water Plant Dam at Great Falls collapsed, Choteau was “surrounded by water,” and the town of Belt was partially inundated. Passengers on the train stalled at Drummond practically ate Drummond out of food and drink over the three days they were stranded there. A man walked off a washed-out footbridge at Rocker, the first flood related death in Silver Bow County.


On Saturday, June 6, we saw “Entire Montana Now Paralyzed by Destructive Floods,” according to the Anaconda Standard. The big Higgins Bridge in Missoula collapsed the next day, joining every other bridge in Missoula County. The Miner reported that William Clark’s Milltown Dam at Bonner was safe, although at one point 15 feet of water was going over the spillway, and part of the structure of this brand-new dam was dynamited to allow more water to flow through.


The rainfall was not limited to Montana, but was widespread across the upper Missouri Valley. Flooding in Kansas and Missouri, especially around Topeka and Kansas City, was even more devastating to residential neighborhoods than were the floods in Montana. By June 7, the rains had slacked off, and the Miner reported that “a strange object appeared over the western part of the city, resembling a ball of fire. Later it was identified as the sun, which disappeared several weeks since.” But it was another six days before the story left the front pages, and many months before a semblance of normalcy returned to the devastated communities in western Montana.


The long-term legacy of the 1908 flood was the toxic mine tailings that washed down Silver Bow Creek and the Clark Fork River. Vast quantities, enough to cover more than 1,000 acres, spread throughout the watershed and piled up behind the Milltown Dam, ultimately killing life along huge reaches of the river. Today’s environmental cleanup, costing tens of millions of dollars, is necessary, not just because the mine operations were cavalier in their concern for the environment, but because one of the most intense periods of mine and smelter activity coincided with a remarkable period of rain and snow falling on a landscape that had been modified so it could not cope with the precipitation.

Category: Education News, Environmental News · Tags:

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