he Clark Fork Superfund Challenge: Restoring Ecosystems Versus Technical Impracticability


Joe Griffin

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The Clark Fork Superfund Complex is a humongous environmental experiment that often requires scientists, engineers and lawyers to recognize limitations to restoring environments. The flooding Berkeley Pit and attached 10,000 miles of underground workings is the poster child of “technical impracticability” – highly contaminated groundwater that will never be restored. By contrast, Milltown Reservoir cleanup shows that some ecosystems can be largely restored. Finding what is practicable is a complex endeavor that begs the question, “why is it taking so long.”

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In 1990, Hydrogeologist Joe Griffin left Florida to put in Monitoring wells at Anaconda’s Old Works Smelter Site (long before it became a golf course). By the time he retired from Montana Department of Environmental Quality in 2015, he had managed to insert himself into environmental projects stretching from the Berkeley Pit to Missoula. Considering himself a serious student of the river, he continues to play in the vast expanse of the Clark Fork basin and travels with a thumb drive at all times. He is most proud of his long-term association with the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program where he is a volunteer and technical advisor.