The Arnold Bolle Award

Peter Nielsen - 2001

Peter Nielsen

Peter Nielsen has been one of the most effective advocates of watershed health in Western Montana. His expertise in environmental water quality and wastewater management has been crucial in cleaning up waterways poisoned by Montana’s historic industries over the last century. Arriving in Montana in 1980, Peter spent years as a whitewater rafting guide, leading rafting trips in the Clark Fork River and Blackfoot River. His passion for rivers led him to pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana.

He started volunteering with the Clark Fork Coalition, then in its fledgling stage in 1985. One of CFC’s first major accomplishments that he led was negotiating permit conditions to clean up wastewater discharge from the Smurfit-Stone Paper Mill in Frenchtown, protecting the river and Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille from further damage while allowing mill operations to continue. His graduate paper focused on wastewater permitting and public participation over a 30 year history at the Frenchtown paper mill. Eventually he was hired as the Clark Fork Coalition’s first Executive Director from 1986 to 1992, establishing the non-profit as a leader for watershed protection in Western Montana and Idaho.

Peter was a critical player as both a key witness and water quality expert when the EPA and Montana pursued legal action against companies responsible for the release of toxic mine waste into the Clark Fork. During the 30-year process, he helped strengthen the cases to remediate and restore the Clark Fork and Milltown Superfund sites, representing Missoula County on the Design Review team for the projects. He continued representing the County in the removal of the Milltown and Bonner Mill Dams.

Peter then transitioned from CFC to Missoula’s City-County Health Department and served as the Environmental Health Supervisor for 26 years until his retirement in 2018. Among his achievements were establishing the Missoula Valley Water Quality District and educating the public on the importance of protecting Missoula’s sole-source aquifer. He supervised Missoula’s annual household hazardous waste collection, groundwater monitoring, public education and regulatory programs that protect the surface and groundwater of the Missoula Valley.

Recognition for his contributions include: the University of Montana’s Clancy Gordon Award (1986); the Clark Fork Coalition’s President’s Award (1990); the Conservation Roundtable’s Arnold Bolle Conservation Professional Award (2001); and the Exemplary Service Award from the Montana Public Health Association (2008).

Thanks to Peter and the CFC’s multi-year efforts, thousands of residents and visitors have been able to enjoy a cleaner watershed and public water system. Even in retirement, he continues to serve on CFC’s Technical Advisory Board. His contributions synthesize technical and legal expertise, community organizing, and a love for Montana’s invaluable watersheds to the benefit of the land, the wildlife, and the community.

Biography by Kalle Fox

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