Our Mission

to understand, conserve, and enhance the unique ecological and recreational resources of the Upper  Missouri River Watershed.

The Upper Missouri River Watershed Alliance (UMOWA) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit conservation organization created in 2014 by local citizens concerned for the health and future of the Upper Missouri River watershed. Comprised of sportsmen, landowners, farmers and ranchers, UMOWA focuses its efforts and research on the Missouri River and its tributaries from its source at Three Forks Forks—downstream to the Black Eagle dam near Great Falls, MT. We work closely with governmental agencies, power companies, sportsmen’s groups and like-minded conservation organizations to better understand and protect the recreational and environmental qualities of this important and special ecosystem.


About the Missouri River

We are dedicated to the preservation, protection, understanding and enhancement of one of America’s greatest resources--the Missouri river. This is the longest river system in North America and drains 529,350 square miles of the United States and Canada. When combined with the Mississippi river, it is the fourth longest river system in the world.

For the past 12,000 years, the Missouri river has served as a source of water and food as well as a transportation highway for its inhabitants. The name Missouri is 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 Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and the Corps of Discovery through the legendary Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804 to 1806. Subsequently, the river became the primary thoroughfare for the fur trade and the transportation of goods in the opening of the West to the Pacific Ocean.

Today the upper Missouri river watershed is defined by UMOWA as that reach of river from the confluence of the Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson rivers at Three Forks, Montana, downstream to the Black Eagle Dam near the city of Great Falls. We also consider the tributaries draining into the main Missouri along its course, most notably the Smith, Dearborn, and Sun Rivers, and numerous smaller streams to be an integral part of the watershed.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MT FWP) angler-use latest statistics (2015) show that the waters experienced 183,479 angler days during 2015. Of those fishing days, 93,365 were resident anglers and 90,114 were non-resident anglers. The value of a non-resident angler day in 2015 was $646.99/day. As such, the Missouri River section 9 nonresident anglers contributed an estimated $58,302,856 to the local economy in 2015. The value of a resident angler day for the river in 2015 was $83.50/day. As such, the Missouri River section 9 resident anglers contributed an estimated $7,795,977 to the local economy in 2015. The combined total being $66,098,833.

Regarding fish numbers, in 2017, the MT FWP spring estimate for brown trout greater than 10 inches was 576 per mile. The fall estimate for rainbow trout greater than 10 inches was 4,936 per mile.

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 well-being of the American west.

Why UMOWA Was Created

As we looked to the future, the Upper Missouri Watershed Alliance (UMOWA) recognized 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 2011 oil spill near into the Yellowstone river near Laurel, Montana, which dumped 62,000 gallons of crude oil into the river, confirmed the urgent need to establish scientifically documented baseline data in the Upper Missouri watershed. This data on macroinvertebrate life and water quality has been collected for four years and will be utilized to document the present state of health of the river. This will serve as a means with which to measure future deleterious events against our collected historical data.

What We've Achieved

Monitoring aquatic insects, plants, and water quality

While we are still a young and growing organization, we have already accomplished many important strategic initiatives toward a better understanding of the river. Our initial projects were to commission evidence-based scientific studies on the current conditions relating to the insect populations, plant biomass and water quality. Our studies of the macroinvertebrates (bugs) in the river initiated in 2014, have given us a greater understanding of the changes that influence this vital insect population. Shortly, we hope to design and initiate an aquatic plant study which will ultimately determine the precise presence and extent of this plant growth as well as identifying the causes contributing to the increased growth of plants and vegetation that choke much of the river in the summer and fall.

The sewage spill into the Gallatin river demonstrates the need to have reliable baseline data to measure the effect of these incidents so that those responsible for the potential damage can be held accountable. Because governmental agencies have not had the resources to properly monitor water quality on the river and its tributaries, in 2016 UMOWA began a water quality monitoring program for the Missouri and Smith rivers. As future resources allow, we will expand the project to include the Dearborn and Sun Rivers.

Streambank Restoration

Beginning May 2018, the Upper Missouri Watershed Alliance (UMOWA) began implementing its portion of the Northwestern Energy’s Madison and Missouri River Stewardship Program Project, known as the Wolf Creek Bridge Riverbank Restoration Project. The projects’ aims are to restore native vegetation and ecological function to this quarter mile of riverbank that has been impacted by ungulate grazing and, to a lesser extent, and has been impacted by angler use. 


This last summer MT FWP discovered the first invasive quagga mussels in Montana. UMOWA has begun a response to the crisis with a plan to install the first boat wash station in the region in Craig. We expect this to be operational in the summer of 2018. We will develop an educational program to inform river users about the importance of proper cleaning of their boats to prevent the spread of invasive species.


Our macroinvertebrate studies support clear evidence that the insect hatches on the upper Missouri have changed and dramatically diminished over the last few years. Both the caddis fly and mayfly populations have been significantly impacted. We have determined the most likely cause for this phenomenon is a lack of high water flushing flows in the spring/summer. This has allowed excessive weed growth and increased siltation of the riverbed gravel necessary for the successful reproduction of these insects. In response to the problem, UMOWA has organized meetings with the Bureau of Reclamation which controls outflows from the Canyon Ferry reservoir as well as Northwestern Energy, which operate both Holter and Hauser dams. Our hope is that our negotiations will result in planned, periodic flushing flows of the river.


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