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Topic: Climate & Pollution     Department: Letters

"1,000 messy facts"

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Riparian systems are varied and dynamic; riparian models are human constructs particular to individuals. Cleo Woelfe-Erskine's article, "Riparian Repair," failed to capture a fundamental of reclamation and even restoration: We practitioners don't deliver a perfect facsimile of nature full-blown at the inception but rather advance the recovery process, which continues if we have been successful (HCN, 9/1/08). In the case of Silver Bow Creek, the source of contaminants in the Milltown Reservoir, we have accomplished in less than one decade what would have taken centuries or millennia unassisted.

In my limited experience, every time new river consultants look at what has been done at some project (by a competing consultant), they wag their heads and bemoan the folly. This informs me that it's subjective, not science. As for beavers coming to the rescue, they will come when there is food. In the absence of planting willows, other shrubs, and trees, there would be no beaver food. Woodies have to be protected until they establish sufficiently to resprout. Natural "succession" is a figment these days; it's the unnatural succession of noxious weeds that plays out without effective revegetation, at least in the valleys. This requires a fine appreciation of sites, plant habitats, establishing characteristics, competitive and other relations among species, planting practices, etc. There is no simple model but rather 1,000 messy facts.

Rich Prodgers
Dillon, Montana

Cleo Woelfle-Erskine responds:
Revegetation is only one aspect of restoration. The bigger poin there is that both Silver Bow and Milltown restoration designs failed to consider the stream segments slated for restoration in the contexts of their watersheds. As a result, the preliminary success of the Silver Bow plantings is threatened by recontamination from tailings left in place on Butte hill, according to the EPA's 2006 monitoring reports. At Milltown, computer models showed that high banks of fine sediment would stay put after Milltown Dam came down. Instead, at least 250,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment eroded during this year's 3-year flow and drifted165 miles downstream. 

The Clark Fork restoration is a massive experiment that consultants and agencies should use to improve future projects. But geomorphic monitoring on Silver Bow is minimal, and DEQ's Joel Chavez says there's no plan to change strategy if monitoring shows the current engineering scheme isn't allowing the creek to flood and move around as it should. At Milltown, NRDP's Doug Martin and consultant Matt Daniels say they're open to adjusting the restoration plan to the Clark Fork's post-dam configuration. The extensive monitoring NRDP plans following Milltown restoration is a possible antidote to the subjective head-wagging Prodgers bemoans, if it's accompanied by understanding, and action.

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