Beaverhead River Litigation Settlement: What’s In It & Why It Matters

Beaverhead Litigation Settlement Requires Study, Planning & Work to Solve River Algal Blooms and Turbidity Pollution

We are excited to announce that we have settled our lawsuit challenging the Clark Canyon 401 Certification in return for both Clark Canyon Hydroelectric and the State of Montana committing themselves to working with local stakeholders in (a) fully understanding the Beaverhead pollution issue, (b) identify the scientific cause(s), and (c) identify and/or create solutions necessary to stopping these events from occurring.

The Issue:  The last few years’ unnatural, severe algal blooms and turbidity events on the Upper Beaverhead have dramatically degraded the river’s fishing opportunities and hurt the local outdoors economy.  In fact, Montana FWP recently estimated that these pollution events annually cost the local Dillon economy around 5 million dollars!

At the same time as these pollution events, a long-standing proposal to retrofit Clark Canyon Dam gathered momentum and began the official licensing process with state and federal officials.  When the State of Montana issued a water quality certification for the hydropower retrofit we took legal action and appealed the permit because it did not account for the nexus between ongoing pollution impacts of the Dam on the Beaverhead.

Our key issue with the Clark Canyon 401 Hydropower Certification (click here to read the backstory) was that the State had a legal obligation to consider existing river pollution problems related to the Project as a whole, and then to implement, as a Project certification condition, a management plan that made sure time and resources were allocated to understanding and fixing the causes of Beaverhead River algal blooms and turbidity events.

Our settlement essentially gets citizens and the Beaverhead what both need: a firm, enforceable commitment and timeline from key stakeholders to work on solving serious pollution problems.

Why It Matters:  Two take-aways here.

  • For the first time there is an accountable, transparent, and enforceable framework dedicated to working on pollution problems degrading the Beaverhead River and its fishery.  It is not enough for our decisionmakers and agencies to know and talk about pollution problems – we need guaranteed action towards identifying and implementing proven solutions. That type of tangible commitment is exactly what our Beaverhead River Litigation Settlement provides: a path forward towards preventing future pollution events and protecting local citizens’ and business’ right to clean, fishable water.
  • Litigation is an important tool for river protection. Lawsuits, grounded in facts and strong science, are critical means for ensuring necessary action is taken to protect swimmable, fishable, drinkable water.  Our decisionmakers must be held accountable to remember our rivers and the importance of clean water in every decision they make. Sometimes we can only vindicate the public’s right to clean water through legal action.

We need your help to continue fighting back.

The water we drink, fish, and use is essential to our health and Montana’s way of life. No family should have to worry about safety when they turn on the tap, and no Montana river should run green with algal blooms.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper was founded to ensure that environmental laws are enforced and the health of communities are protected. We will not back down to industry and political pressures, and will not sit idly by while polluters attempt to water down pollution controls.

Working together we can speak with one powerful voice and act as one powerful force. Please help us fight for clean, safe water in Montana. Take action now. Join us today.