UMW Professors Receive Grants to Continue Upper Clark Fork Drainage Research

Dr. Arica Crootof and Dr. Rob Thomas of the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Montana Western have both received grants to continue their work on the Upper Clark Fork drainage in the Deerlodge Valley of Montana.

UMW students conduct sediment mapping on the Upper Clark Fork River.

The Consortium for Research on Environmental Water Systems (CREWS) is a five-year, $20 million-dollar National Science Foundation program involving several state and business partners to study Montana’s environmental water systems and specific water quality issues.

The CREWS program supports “building new research competitiveness and infrastructure for the Montana University System and its partners in ways that advance workforce development, commercialization of project science, STEM education, and inclusion.” The grants to Drs. Crootof and Thomas are supplemental awards to continue their CREWS-supported research on the Upper Clark Fork.

Dr. Crootof received a CREWS Workforce Development Year 4 Supplemental Seed Award in the amount of $5,000 to continue her student-led research focused on recreation use and public perceptions of the Warm Springs Ponds near Anaconda, Montana. With training, students in Dr. Crootof’s NRSM 441: Sustainable Natural Resources Management course will complete data analysis of the Warm Springs Ponds survey results and create customized project summaries for project collaborators including: Atlantic Richfield Co., Butte Citizens Technical Environmental Committee, Clark Fork Coalition, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the public and survey participants.

Students will be trained in data analysis including thematic coding as well as both written and visual science communication techniques. Students will also be re-designing our website (wspsurvey.org) to deliver results to the public in an accessible form. This grant includes 100 hours of paid research for Montana Western students. This research experience and training will help prepare students for environmental related careers and graduate programs.

Dr. Thomas received $6,500.00 for his proposal titled, “In-stream Macroinvertebrate Response to Slicken Discharge on the Upper Clark Fork, Deer Lodge, Montana.” Dr. Thomas will have his ENSC 429: Environmental Field Studies class continue to research the impacts to in-stream macroinvertebrates of metal contamination derived from highly concentrated deposits on the river floodplain called “slickens.” The contaminants were deposited during anomalous flooding in 1908 and are now being removed to improve the health of the river.

Dr. Thomas’s student-led research centers on the transport processes and mapping of contaminated sediment from the slickens into the river channel, with the goal of assessing the impacts the metals have on the health of in-stream macroinvertebrates. These organisms are food for fish, so understanding how metals impact them helps to better understand how to improve the fisheries. The data are provided to state and federal agencies to help them with their remediation of the river.

Student research supported by past CREWS grants to Dr. Crootof and Dr. Thomas has been disseminated to the various stakeholders and is being used to aid in the remediation of the Upper Clark Fork drainage. Their work was recently featured through a series of articles in the Montana Standard.

For more information, please contact Dr. Rob Thomas (rob.thomas@umwestern.edu or 406-683-7615).

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