DEQ to begin water quality assessment in Madison watershed

As strange as it may sound, water quality monitoring in the Madison Valley has increased in popularity over the past few years as a growing number of citizen scientists have volunteered their time with the Madison Watershed Partnership.

Now that effort will help the Montana Department of Environmental Quality as the agency begins the process of cataloguing water quality in the Madison River watershed and identifying places where improvement is needed.

Two projects in the Madison Valley have been taking place simultaneously. On Jack Creek a group of organizations including the Madison Conservation District, Ennis School District, the Madison River Foundation, Moonlight Basin, Jack Creek Preserve and Montana State University Extension have worked together since 2006 to monitor water quality along Jack Creek, which flows out of the Madison Mountain Range east of Ennis and into Ennis Lake.

Additionally, in 2010 the Madison Watershed Partnership, which is comprised of the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, Madison Conservation District and Madison River Foundation, began training volunteers on how to monitor water quality in a variety of streams in the Madison Valley. During the past two years, these volunteers, called the Madison Stream Team, went through multiple days of training and hours of fieldwork collecting water quality data, said Sunni Heikes-Knapton, Madison watershed coordinator.

The efforts on Jack Creek and with the Madison Stream Team are leading to another collaborative effort, this time with Montana DEQ.

The process is called TMDL, which stands for Total Maximum Daily Load. It is the level of a pollutant that can be present in a water body and still allow the water body to provide its beneficial uses, which can be a variety of things including recreational, provide for aquatic life, or for agriculture. Common pollutants in the Madison River watershed include metals, nutrients and temperature.

The process of developing the TMDLs for impaired streams in the Madison River Basin will involve a substantial amount of water quality monitoring and assessment.

Eventually, Montana DEQ will go through the TMDL process on each watershed in the state, said DEQ water quality and assessment coordinator Katie Makarowski. The idea is to assess water quality, find areas were water quality in streams or lakes isn’t adequate, find out what the pollutants are and then come up with some suggestions on how the problem can be addressed.

Ultimately this will all come out in a TMDL report from DEQ. The report will not be regulatory in nature, Makarowski said.

Basically, the study will provide the local community and landowners sound science to guide their water quality improvement decisions, she said.

The final TMDL report will probably not be complete until 2016. But the process of assessing water quality around the Madison River Basin will begin this summer.

And that’s where the Madison Stream Team comes in.

Unlike many river basins in Montana, the Madison Watershed Partnership has made the effort to train local volunteers on the science of water quality monitoring, Makarowski said. Now the state will be able to use the monitoring information the Stream Team volunteers have collected and will continue to utilize their help through the TMDL process.

“We kind of have a jump on the monitoring that we need to do,” she said.

The partnership between the Stream Team and the DEQ recognizes the important effort the watershed partnership and the volunteers have made in the past several years, Heikes-Knapton said.

“The state realizes that the Stream Team members and folks who are doing the monitoring on Jack Creek have been collecting data in a way that’s known to be reliable so that the information is recognized as being useful,” she said.

To help in further training of the Stream Team and new volunteers, the Madison Watershed Partnership is hosting a training day June 15 at the Ennis elementary cafeteria. New volunteers will start their day at 8 a.m. and Stream Team veterans will come at 10 a.m. The class will go until 3 p.m.

The class is being conducted in cooperation with Montana DEQ. Lunch will be included and so people planning to attend should call Heikes-Knapton at 682-3181.

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