Upper Missouri River Watershed

The Upper Missouri Watershed Alliance (UMOWA) is dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enhancement of one of America’s greatest resources.   The Missouri River is the longest river system in North America and drains 529,350 square miles of the US and Canada.  When combined with the Mississippi River it is the 4th longest river system in the world.

For the past 12,000 years the Missouri river has served as source of water and food as well as a transportation highway for its’ inhabitants.  The name Missouri was derived from the Native American tribe of the same name and is translated as People of the wooden canoes.  The River was revealed to the rest of the world following the epic journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  It then became the thoroughfare for the fur trade and the transportation of goods in the opening of the west.

Today the upper Missouri River watershed is defined by UMOWA as that reach of river from the confluence of the Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson at Three Forks down to the Black Eagle Dam at the city of Great Falls.  We also take into consideration the tributaries draining into the main stem along this course, most notably the Smith, Dearborn, and Sun Rivers, as well as numerous smaller streams.

The watershed consists of approximately 43,800 surface acres of reservoir water and 96.5 miles of flowing river.  Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) angler-use statistics show that the waters received an estimated 425,469 angler days in 2013 which is the latest year the information is available. Of those fishing days 323,436 were resident anglers and 102,033 were non-resident anglers, which accounts for 12% of all the estimated angler days in Montana. An estimated $88.7 million in revenue was generated from these waters.  The Missouri below Holter Reservoir was the number one fishery in the state in 2013.

These statistics do not include the agricultural or other recreations uses of the river nor do they include the extensive use of the tributaries.  The upper Missouri is also a source of clean water for irrigation, navigation and recreation for the states downriver.  It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the Missouri to the success and wellbeing of the American west.

As we looked to the future, UMOWA realized the need to form an organization to monitor events on this section of the Missouri. Thus UMOWA was organized in 2014.  Incidents on other Montana rivers such as the multiple spills on the Yellowstone including the 2011 spill near Laurel which dumped 62,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone show the need to establish baseline data which will show current conditions against which we can measure the effect of those incidents on this valuable resource. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2015/01/150120-oil-spills-into-yellowstone-river/

While we are still a very young organization we have already accomplished some important steps toward an understanding the river.  Our first projects were to establish the current aquatic conditions relating to the insect populations, plant biomass and water quality.  Our studies of the macroinvertabrates (bugs) in the river initiated in 2015 have given us greater understanding of the why the insect populations have been changing.  We will soon be initiating an aquatic plant study to help us establish data for the plant biomass to measure the year to year increase of the weed beds.

The sewage spill into the Gallatin river  http://mtpr.org/post/sewage-spill-contaminates-gallatin-river-near-big-sky shows the need to have data to measure the effect of these incidents so that those responsible for the degradation can be held accountable. Because government agencies have not had the resources to properly monitor water quality on the river and its’ tributaries, in 2016 UMOWA began a water monitoring program for the Missouri and Smith rivers.  As future resources allow, we will expand the project to include the Dearborn and Sun Rivers.

UMOWA has also begun work on the first of the proposed bank projects to restore and protect the bank from further erosion.  When weather allows in the spring we will begin work on the west bank below the Wolf Creek bridge.  After eliminating the invasive species, such as the knapweed infestation, the bank will be fenced off and a cover of native grasses and shrubs will be planted.  Other bank projects will be undertaken as they are identified.  Check out our survey to suggest projects that you would like us to consider in the future.

This last summer MFWP discovered the first invasive quagga mussels in Montana.  http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/invasive-mussels-have-officials-and-sportsmen-worried-for-montana-s/article_c903c90f-8088-5bf9-b949-ce4453ca5148.html  UMOWA had begun a response to the crisis with a plan to install boat wash stations in Cascade, Craig and Wolf Creek.  They should be operational in the summer of 2017 and will encourage boaters to do the proper cleaning of their boats to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Our Macroinvertabrate studies support antidotal evidence cited by long time guides and fisherman that the insect hatches on the Missouri have diminished.  Both the caddis fly and mayfly populations have suffered.  It has also been determined the most likely cause is a lack of high water flushing flows in the spring. This has allowed excessive weed growth and increased silting in of the gravel necessary for the successful reproduction of insects. In response to the problem UMOWA will be working with the Bureau of Reclamation which controls Canyon Ferry Dam and Northwestern Energy, which own both Holter and Hauser dams, as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to create increased flows in the spring to flush the gravel beds.  We believe that increasing the flows to 10,000 cubic feet per second for a week to ten days will restore insect populations.

Your generous contributions have made possible the projects we have taken on.  Your continued support will assure our future success.  The protection and enhancement of the Upper Missouri River watershed is critical and we thank all of you for helping make this possible.

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