The legacy of mining-related contamination in the upper Clark Fork Basin created an extensive longitudinal gradient in metal concentrations, extending from Silver Bow Creek to Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho. Downstream metal concentrations continue to decline, but, despite such improvements, the ecological health of much of the river remains uncertain. Understanding the long-term consequences of the Clark Fork River mining legacy may be supported by environmental monitoring techniques that include a holistic assessment of biological health or response to define organism exposure to complex contaminant mixtures and the consequences of such exposures. This report presents the spatiotemporal patterns of mining-related contaminants, copper, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc, in surface water, fine-grained bed sediment, and macroinvertebrate (aquatic insect) tissue in the upper Clark Fork from near Butte to Missoula, Montana. Overall, the patterns in water column sample concentrations observed in this study were consistent with previously observed trends, but bed sediment concentrations and concentrations of copper and arsenic varied more in tissue samples among sites. Trace element concentrations, especially copper, often exceeded the chronic aquatic life criteria and consistently exceeded the sediment probable effects level PEL for copper, particularly in the upper and middle river segments. The 20 years considered here were the wettest period since remediation started, and this increase in precipitation may have affected patterns in contaminant concentrations.
Results of this study demonstrated the utility of a continued, comprehensive biomonitoring program to help guide and evaluate future environmental cleanup activities in the Clark Fork. Despite variation in defining complete restoration in these watersheds, using multiple lines of evidence in this study provided quantifiable measures of the timing and completeness of recovery relative to reference conditions. Successful recovery in the Clark Fork may benefit from an adaptive management strategy to continue collecting a comprehensive, multivariate dataset to evaluate whether established goals are being met and for subsequent adjustments and management, as needed.
|Title||Spatiotemporal variations in copper, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc concentrations in surface water, fine-grained bed sediment, and aquatic macroinvertebrates in the upper Clark Fork Basin, western Montana—A 20-year synthesis, 1996–2016|
|Authors||Sara L. Caldwell Eldridge, Michelle I. Hornberger|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center|