WARM SPRINGS, Mont. — Officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Clark Fork Coalition are hopeful for a state cleanup project after a recent fish kill.
Nathan Cook, a fisheries biologist for FWP, says it was discovered by a group of University of Montana students.
“They were finding some dead fish in the area that we knew had some large slicken areas in it,” Cook said.
Cook and Clark Fork Coalition restoration policy manager Alex Leon went to the area between Warm Springs and Galen to see it for themselves.
“We walked the river (and) counted 32 dead fish, including eight browns, two suckers and 22 mountain whitefish,” Cook said.
Cook tells NBC Montana that the cause was heavy rainfall that washed heavy metals from Butte’s mining operations on the flood plains, allowing contaminated water to flow into the river.
He says there’s still some concern now.
“I’m watching the weather very carefully and wondering maybe the same thing might be happening again,” Cook said.
The state is currently working to get the contamination out the areas surrounding the Clark Fork River. The area between Warm Springs and Galen is next to be cleaned up.
Leon says the impact of the fish kill is devastating, but he considers it a wake-up call.
“We’ve known this contamination has been up here for a long time. It’s the reason the state is up here cleaning it up, but I think the fact that this happened -- and it hadn’t happened in 20 years -- was really a shocker to a lot of us,” Leon said.
He says there’s still 35 miles of river to clean up, and the process could take at least 20 years.