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Episode 6 - Clean water starts with us all

June 2021

In Montana, we have a strong sense of place and of responsibility to the land. “Clean Water Starts with Me” is the slogan of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality water quality division. It speaks to the fact that every one of us can take steps to promote clean water and healthy streams in Montana. No matter if you’re a hiker, landowner, rancher, or angler there are actions we can each take to help.

We have beautiful hiking opportunities along streams and to alpine lakes in the Bitterroot. To help with clean water, hikers can stay on trails to concentrate their impact and avoid trampling plants while recreating along rivers and lakes. As a dog owner, picking up after your pets and properly disposing of waste helps prevent it from entering our waters. Campers can ensure they are setting up camp and harvesting wood more than 300 feet away from lakes or streams. Be sure to pack out what you pack in and take garbage with you.

There can be many different factors as a landowner when it comes to water quality. If you are on a well and septic system, keep up to date on well testing and septic maintenance.  Own property along a stream or river?  Promote the growth of streamside vegetation to protect habitat and water quality.

Healthy vegetation like willows and cottonwoods along streams provides many benefits. Their roots stabilize the soil along waterways reducing erosion. Trees provide shade to the stream that can help reduce water temperatures. Stabilizing vegetation slows the water down so that it can better infiltrate into the aquifer. They also help to filter out pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous, while providing habitat for birds and animals on land as well as fish and aquatic insects in the water.

People travel to the Bitterroot from all over for our world-class fishery. To help with clean water anglers can access the stream from designated access points to avoid impacts to established vegetation. You can reduce the risk of transporting aquatic invasive species using the “clean, drain, dry” method for all boats and equipment. As with hikers, pack out what you pack in and follow leave no trace principles.

The Bitter Root Water Forum is here to help too. We partner with landowners to find solutions that address their needs and benefit water resources at the same time. Along the Burnt Fork, we are working with Jay Meyer on his family ranch. They have had problems with erosion along the stream and the North Burnt Fork suffers from too much sediment, so we worked together to find a way to improve the situation for all. To encourage the growth of stabilizing vegetation we added fencing along the stream which will help protect plants from wildlife and cattle. An off-site watering system and hardened stream crossings were put in to help make their rotational grazing operation even more efficient and reduce erosion along the streambanks.

Everyone can get involved with the Bitter Root Water Forum. Whether you are looking for resources on any of these topics or can give some time at a volunteer day or our annual Bitterroot River Clean Up (August 14th) you can take steps with us to promote clean water for the Bitterroot. Clean water starts with all of us, and we’re happy to help in any way we can.

Here are some resources on these topics:

Septic Maintenance -,

Streamside Landowners -

Stream Permitting -

Clean, Drain, Dry -

Livestock Operations Guide -

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