In Montana, Waterkeeper Acts Against That Blooming Algae

Beaverhead Algea Large

Unnatural algae blooms and turbidity from pollution on the Upper Beaverhead River have degraded the fish population in recent years. Photo by Wade Fellin.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper settled a lawsuit in March that will provide more information on and further study of the growing problem of toxic algae in Montana’s Upper Beaverhead watershed.

Severe unnatural algae blooms and turbidity on the Upper Beaverhead River have degraded the fish population over the last few years, hurting the local outdoor economy. The state estimates that in one year this pollution cost the local Dillon, Montana economy around $5 million.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper saw an opportunity to intervene when a proposal to retrofit Clark Canyon Dam on the Beaverhead required re-licensing that involved state and federal officials. When the state issued a permit for the dam without accounting for the connection between the dam’s ongoing operations and the growing pollution problem, the Waterkeeper took legal action. That led to a settlement requiring the state and the dam’s owners to work with local stakeholders to better assess the Beaverhead pollution issue, identify its scientific causes, and create solutions to stop the ballooning growth of toxic algae.

“It’s not enough for our decision-makers and government agencies to know and talk about pollution problems,” said Upper Missouri Waterkeeper Guy Alsentzer. “We need guaranteed action to identify and implement solutions. That type of tangible commitment is exactly what our settlement provides: a path forward that prevents future pollution events and protects local citizens’ and businesses’ right to clean, fishable water. Sometimes we can only vindicate the public’s right to clean water through legal action.”

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