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New program will help citizen-led groups monitor water quality

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | February 16, 2021 1:43 PM

The Flathead Lake Biological Station soon will launch a new program aimed at providing scientific expertise, guidance and funding to citizen-led watershed groups in Montana in order to build capacity for freshwater monitoring and ensure the use of scientifically sound methodologies.

The new program, Monitoring Montana Waters (MMW), will be funded by PlusFish Philanthropy, a private organization based in the United States that is dedicated to protecting healthy aquatic ecosystems.

The bio station, which is owned and operated by the University of Montana and is headquartered on the east shore of Flathead Lake, has conducted water-quality monitoring for more than 40 years. But according to a news release, the new funding allows the facilities to formalize the program and thus, increase the breadth and amount of assistance provided.

MMW will build on the station’s decades of research through a variety of means, including helping design effective monitoring plans, develop written sampling and analysis, offer one-on-one training in sampling methods with experienced researchers and help with data analysis and reporting.

The program will offer small grants that individuals and groups can use to purchase monitoring gear, and supports the costs of sample analyses at the bio station’s Freshwater Research Laboratory.

Flathead Lake Bio Station Researcher and MMW Developer Rachel Malison said one of the primary goals of the program is to collect comprehensive water-quality data that will help others — namely federal, state, tribal and local government agencies and watershed groups — make informed management decisions regarding environmental change and pollutants.

“Because regulatory agencies have limited resources, trained members of watershed groups serve a crucial role by monitoring water quality across Montana,” Malison said. “By engaging citizen-led groups, helping them design plans and obtain training and funding needed to analyze samples, we hope to support the collection of credible scientific data that will support managers in making important decisions to protect our Montana waters.”

Malison hopes the program also will allow researchers to assist watershed groups in locating freshwater ecosystems that “need more attention and will help determine areas of concern.”

“Initially, we plan for MMW to focus mostly on rivers and streams, because that’s where the greatest data needs are,” Malison said. “But we will also support lake monitoring groups.”

MONTANA HAS no shortage of natural resources in need of monitoring, and because funding and researchers are limited, the bio station and other entities have come to rely on assistance from watershed and citizen-led groups.

In addition to MMW, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana State University’s Extension Water Quality Program and Montana Watershed Coordination Council have all provided training and resources to citizen monitoring groups for more than a decade.

The new program, according to the news release, will work closely with those partners to complement existing efforts and amplify statewide collaborative water-monitoring efforts.

“Clean water is our most important resource, both in Montana and at the global scale. The more we’re able to work together to monitor our waters and integrate our data, the better off we’re all going to be,” Malison said.

She added that while MMW is “still in the process of taking shape,” the program is ready to begin engaging with watershed groups. Groups that are interested in participating in the program should complete an online contact form or send an email to mmw@flbs.umt.edu. For more information about the program and funding opportunities, go to www.flbs.umt.edu/newflbs and click on the ‘outreach’ tab.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 7584407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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