Rattlesnake Creek Dam Removal

Working with local partners in Missoula, Montana

map of Rattlesnake Creek watershedthree people examining a stream

Rattlesnake Creek Dam 

Originally built to provide water for the City of Missoula in 1904, the Rattlesnake Creek Dam was first constructed as a wooden structure and later converted into a concrete one. After problems with Giardia contamination in the early 1980s, a private utility took the dam offline and the City of Missoula converted to groundwater as its primary source for drinking water. Since then and after suffering additional damage, the Rattlesnake Creek Dam has remained obsolete, posing a public safety risk and blocking the passage of threatened fish species trying to access important upstream spawning habitat. 

After acquiring the dam in 2017, the City of Missoula entered into an agreement with Trout Unlimited to remove the Rattlesnake Creek Dam in 2020 as part of a broader Clark Fork River restoration effort that will improve watershed health and public access. 

Together with other stakeholder organizations like Watershed Education Network, Trout Unlimited is working to monitor the impacts of the dam’s removal at several sites along  Rattlesnake Creek, data from which will be used by both scientists and land managers to assess and respond to the biological, physical, and chemical impacts in the watershed. 

Meeting with Local Partners

In July 2019, faculty director Heidi Ballard, Executive Director Ryan Meyer, and graduate student Chris Jadallah spent time with partners in Missoula at Trout Unlimited, the Watershed Education Network, and the Resources Legacy Fund to discuss community-based monitoring in the context of the Rattlesnake Creek Dam removal. Through a carefully delineated combination of citizen science and professional monitoring, our partners will be working to collect and analyze the monitoring data to inform scientific research and site management. By engaging Missoula residents in the monitoring of their local watershed, local partners are also creating powerful opportunities for place-based environmental science education and broader community impacts tied to stewardship, civic action, and social learning. 

Conversations with these partners and observations of citizen science “Stream Teams” in action allowed us to share information on achieving multiple goals (from generating high quality data to promoting youth education) through citizen science while also learning more about their process of building a collaborative monitoring plan, which we hope to highlight in the manual we’re developing to support citizen science and dam removal across the Western United States. We had a wonderful time in Montana, and look forward to continued collaboration with these inspiring partners in working toward community engagement in watershed science and restoration. 

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