Big Creek passes test of water quality

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Big Creek is the first stream in the state to have completed a water quality restoration process aimed at reducing sediments.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Flathead National Forest announced the news Thursday that Big Creek had been removed from the state’s list of impaired waters.

Recent monitoring data has shown that sediment and stream conditions in Big Creek, a major tributary to the North Fork of the Flathead River, now are similar to conditions in streams with minimal human impacts.

That wasn’t the case in 1996, when Big Creek was added to a list of Montana waters with impaired water quality.

Because of that listing, the Flathead Forest collaborated  with the state environmental agency to complete a watershed restoration plan in 2003. The plan prescribed a variety of Best Management Practices for reducing sediment loads from controllable sources in the Big Creek watershed.

Those practices included decommissioning 60.6 miles of forest logging roads, removing 47 culverts and replacing 19, improving 89 miles of roads to decrease stormwater runoff; revegetating 25 acres of eroding uplands, and working with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to improve the amount of large wood in headwater streams that feed Big Creek.

The recent monitoring of stream conditions has found there has been a substantial decrease in the amount of sand and silt that has impaired spawning habitat for bull trout, a threatened species.

Road building and timber harvesting led to accelerated soil erosion and substantial increases in the amount of sediments delivered to Big Creek.

“A cooperative effort between the state and federal government cleaned up a Montana stream,” Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper said. “This example should be a model for cleaning up other streams around the state.”

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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