The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) does not have the manpower to collect frequent data from the more than 169,000 miles of water flowing through the state.
The DEQ relies on citizen groups throughout the state to crowd-source water quality data, but often, the groups cannot pay for the expensive testing the data requires.
The University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station is trying to solve the financial shortcomings of citizen groups with a new initiative called Monitoring Montana Waters (MMW).
University of Montana assistant professor Rachel Malison — who oversees the program — said MMW will fund up to $6000 for groups to continue the surveys.
“The limited staff members at DEQ can only visit so many water bodies a year,” Malison said. “Having people to volunteer their time and energy and care about the resource and collect the samples makes a huge difference.”
One of the largest groups to receive funding from MWW is the Bitterroot River Protection Association. BRPA director Michael Howell said consistent testing of water quality prevents dangerous problems from forming.
“It’s like going in for your health checkup,” Howell said. “You don't go in just because you're ill. You go in to see if you're healthy and if there's something you can do to prevent yourself from getting ill. It's the same with the river.”
BRPA takes samples from 17 sites in the Bitterroot Valley several times a month. Shipping the samples to a lab in Helena, each site may cost 100 dollars in lab fees. Funding from MWW will help scale Howell’s operation.
“We’re expanding rapidly and we couldn't do that without aid,” Howell said. “It’s doubled our ability to operate so that's been a great help for us and our local organization.”
The funding for MWW comes from PlusFish Philanthropy, a US-based organization that fights for clean aquatic ecosystems. Citizen groups across Montana are encouraged to apply for the funding soon, as the deadline is March 1.
Malison said that MWW is particularly interested in receiving applications from groups on the eastern side of the state, as there is not as much historical data available.
“Water quality monitoring is critical to be able to detect environmental changes, pollutants, and to inform management,” said Malison. “Trained citizen-led groups play a key role in collecting data in Montana where there aren’t enough resources or funding available for agencies to sample enough of our numerous streams and lakes."
"MMW provides training and resources to ensure that data collected by these groups are high quality so that they can be used for the management and conservation of our waters." - University of Montana assistant professor Rachel Malison
Visit https://flbs.umt.edu/newflbs/outreach/mmw/monitoring-montana-waters/ for more information about Monitoring Montana Waters and applying for the program.