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Pattee Creek watershed project planned

Reducing water pollution with native plants
Pattee Creek Missoula
Posted at 4:35 PM, Mar 23, 2022

MISSOULA - Most homes on Pattee Creek Drive have a babbling creek flowing through the front yard. Some yards have the grass mowed right to the water's edge, others have trees or shrubs. All contain a pollutant highway that leads directly into the Bitterroot River.

The Big Sky Watershed Corps, partnering with Missoula's Stormwater Utility, are planning a paradigm shift for the street, trying to educate residents about the benefits of habitat restoration along the creek.

Habitat restoration is adding native vegetation to the stream's edge, and creating more bends in the water flow. The restoration has several benefits, mainly, plants can filter the water of pollutants, reduce erosion, and slow flooding in the neighborhood.

The project is led by Montana Conservation Corps member Mackenzie Tenan. She said the biggest hurdle to the restoration is convincing homeowners that adding shrubs and trees in their yards would be aesthetically pleasing, as well as helpful.

“We’re here to make Missoula look beautiful," Tenan said. "It is the Garden City. We want it to look beautiful and sustainable.”

Pointing to an already restored section of Pattee Creek Drive at Elms Park, Tenan said the tallest trees would grow less than eight feet tall and not obstruct views.

“This is a great model right here," Tenan said. "We love how this meanders through right here like a natural stream would look along with these trees. We want to make it look as natural as possible and have that meandering look.”

Oils from roads, yard chemicals, and pet waste flowing into streams are the largest pollutants in Montana waters. Nitrogen from fertilizers can be particularly harmful to the ecological balance of rivers. A few plants can make a massive difference in keeping the streams clear.

“What we’re just trying to tell people is this is an important part of our watershed and we want to protect it," Tenan said. "One way to do that is to have diverse vegetation here.”

The initial project is estimated to cost $10,000 and is based upon how many landowners agree to have the yards changed. Tenan has applied to several grants that, if successful, will fund a $30,000 project later in the year. Community input meetings will be held sometime this Summer, and Tenan said the first plants should go in the ground sometime in October.

Tenan adds that if the project gets community support, it could be a model for new developments across Western Montana.

“I want to be able to show them that even though we have this growth, that we can still integrate waterways and keep them as natural as possible.”