After 116 years of frustrating kayakers and migrating fish alike, Missoula, Montana’s Rattlesnake Creek Dam is finally coming down

The lower Rattlesnake Creek Dam was built in 1904 and played a role in Missoula, Montana‘s water supply until 1983, when the water supply was transferred to solely groundwater wells. The dam is now inoperable and not essential, and has impeded fish passage, recreation activities and natural stream function in Rattlesnake Creek for over a century.

Since assuming ownership of the water utility, now Missoula Water, the City has formed a partnership with Trout Unlimited and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to investigate a mitigation and restoration project at the dam to address fisheries, public recreation, public safety and liability.

On November 12, 2019, the dream project became reality when the Missoula City Council approved an agreement that will finally set the project in motion after years of dialog and planning.

Project Benefits

Rattlesnake Creek is one of the major sources of trout for the Clark Fork River and a highly popular recreation area for the public. Removal of the dam would reduce Missoula Water’s work on maintenance and operations, reconnect 26 miles of habitat for fish and wildlife, create new opportunities for trails and other recreation and reestablish a natural river connection between the Rattlesnake Wilderness at the headwaters and the Clark Fork River for the first time in more than 100 years

Opportunities for Public Comment

The City of Missoula and Trout Unlimited hosted a public open house for the Lower Rattlesnake Dam and Reclamation Project in March of 2018. Information presented at the open house outlined the existing options to enhance Rattlesnake Creek and the creek corridor in the area of the dam; and included maps and graphs and options for preservation and recreation opportunities.

The City solicited public comment at the open house and through an online public opinion questionnaire, results here. Based on the results of public comments, the project partners will continue to refine design and costs focusing on the alternative and goals that gain the best value per community input and per best practices in science and engineering.


  • 2018: Conceptual Design Alternatives, Public Scoping and Review, Preliminary Design, Further Data Collection, Fundraising and Project Planning
  • 2019: Planning and Permitting, Final Design and Bid Documents, Site Preparation
  • 2020: Construction and Site Closure, Re-vegetation and Recreation Enhancement
  • 2021-2025: Project Monitoring

Project Costs and Funding

Final construction costs will depend on the restoration alternative selected and the results of public scoping, level of effort, permitting and other factors. Trout Unlimited is currently seeking funding sources for project implementation.

The project partners have secured the engineering and technical services of River Design Group and Morrison-Maierle, Inc. to evaluate the dam and associated infrastructure and develop options for restoration. Missoula Water has contributed $100,000 toward site evaluation and preliminary engineering and design. Missoula Parks and Recreation, Trout Unlimited and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are contributing in-kind and professional services to the project.

Back in June of 2019, the Montana Legislature recently awarded the project $125,000 through the Department of Natural Resources Renewable Resource Grant & Loan Program. The City of Missoula then applied for a $475,000 Hazard Mitigation Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and it has passed the first round of approval. With this last piece, the project will be fully funded.


  • Morgan Valliant, Conservation Lands Manager, Missoula Parks and Recreation, 552-6263
  • Rob Roberts, Project Manager, Trout Unlimited, 543-0054

Photo of Rattlesnake Creek Dam courtesy of Trout Unlimited.

See Trout Unlimited website.

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