UM Bio Station Launches Water Monitoring Program for Civic Groups

Flathead Lake Biological Station researcher Erin Sexton collects samples that will help monitor streams and river systems in the Flathead watershed.


FLATHEAD LAKE – The University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station is launching a new program that will provide scientific expertise, guidance and funding to citizen-led watershed groups in Montana to build capacity for freshwater monitoring and ensure the use of scientifically sound methodologies.

The new program, Monitoring Montana Waters, is funded by PlusFish Philanthropy, a U.S.-based private organization dedicated to protecting healthy aquatic ecosystems and the benefits they provide. While the bio station has conducted water quality monitoring for over 40 years – providing assistance to numerous volunteer and watershed groups – the funding from PlusFish allows it to formalize the program and increase the breadth and amount of assistance provided.  

Water quality data is critical to making informed management decisions regarding environmental change and pollutants, said Rachel Malison, FLBS researcher and MMW developer.

“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.”

MMW provides assistance for monitoring efforts throughout the state through a variety of opportunities, many of which come at no cost to participating groups. This includes help designing effective monitoring plans and developing written sampling and analysis, one-on-one training in sampling methods with FLBS researchers and help with data analysis and reporting.

The program also offers small grants that can be used to purchase monitoring gear and supports the costs of sample analyses at the FLBS Freshwater Research Lab. Participating groups are required to provide a cost match for MMW grants.

Malison hopes that through MMW, researchers also can 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,” said Malison. “But we will also support lake monitoring groups.”

MMW isn’t the first program of its kind in the state. Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Montana State University Extension Water Quality Program and the Montana Watershed Coordination Council have provided training and resources to citizen monitoring groups for over a decade. The MMW program will work closely with these 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. “We’re really excited about where this program might take us, and can’t wait to work alongside the incredible monitoring, training and outreach that’s already being done.”

Malison said that while MMW is still in the process of taking shape, the program is ready to start engaging watershed groups. Any groups interested in participating in the program are asked to complete the MMW online contact form or send an email to For more information about the program and funding opportunities visit the MMW website.


Contact: Rachel Malison, research scientist, Flathead Lake Biological Station, 406-872-4518,; Tom Bansak, associate director, Flathead Lake Biological Station, 406-872-4503,