Taking a water quality sample.

Water Quality in the Blackfoot

In defining the health and resilience of our rivers and streams, water quality is a measure of the suitability of water for a particular use based on selected physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. In the Blackfoot we care about water quality for drinking water, for irrigation and livestock, and for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. Working with partners and landowners, the Blackfoot Challenge supports a variety of stewardship tools for maintaining and improving water quality.

Measures of Water Quality

TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) refer to the amount of pollutant that a water body may receive from all sources without exceeding water quality standards. As part of a nationwide effort, the Blackfoot has undergone a community-based TMDL planning process to identify potential water quality issues and suggest voluntary practices to resolve those. These issues are related to non-point source pollutants – meaning they are not the result of a direct input to a river or stream.

In the Blackfoot, our now completed TMDLs cover four potential water quality issues: temperature, sediment, nutrients and metals. The Blackfoot TMDLs are described and posted on the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s website.

Improving Water Quality

There are both natural and human causes to water quality issues, along with multiple ways to mitigate water quality impacts. Developed by the Blackfoot Challenge and multiple partners, the Blackfoot Watershed Restoration Plan describes water quality concerns and helps to outline options for public and private partners to take voluntary action to improve water quality. This is a “living” plan, which can be modified based on experience, success, and new knowledge. Some of the ways Blackfoot partners and landowners improve water quality include:

  • Stream restoration:  Repairing eroding banks can reduce sediment and nutrient inputs into streams.
  • Riparian grazing management: Well-managed grazing can ensure streambanks remain stable and riparian vegetation can thrive to protect water quality.
  • Water conservation: By participating in the Blackfoot Drought Response plan, landowners conserve water instream during drought, helping to keep water temperatures from rising.
  • Soil health practices: Nurturing healthy soils can reduce the need for fertilizer inputs, limiting the risk of nutrient runoff making its way into streams.
Eroding streambanks.
Completed water gap structure that allows for cattle crossing while protecting nearby riparian vegetation and preventing streambank erosion.