Lower Gallatin Selected as the Next DEQ Nonpoint Source Management Focus Watershed
This post was provided by Eric Trum, environmental science specialist with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and MWCC Board Member.
DEQ’s Nonpoint Source Program has chosen the Lower Gallatin as their next Focus Watershed, meaning the agency will direct extra resources toward reducing nonpoint source pollution and improving water quality in this basin for the next two to three years. At the same time, DEQ will continue their statewide approach of helping local watershed organizations implement Watershed Restoration Plans with additional 319 funding. This includes funding for the Bitterroot Watershed, which is the current Focus Watershed.
In June 2019, the Montana DEQ Watershed Protection Section finalized a 20-Year Vision and Strategic Plan (Plan) for the Nonpoint Source (NPS) Program. The Plan was developed in conjunction with separate but linked plans from other DEQ water quality programs – Monitoring and Assessment (MAS) and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Programs.
The NPS Program will continue to work statewide to provide technical and financial support to achieve its goal of protecting and restoring water quality from the harmful effects of nonpoint source pollution. To meet this goal, the Plan describes additional activities for improving coordination, local capacity, and project implementation. The major change in strategy within the Plan has been to establish a focused watershed approach, in which the NPS program concentrates technical and financial resources within a single watershed. The objective is to allocate up to half of NPS project funding within a single watershed for two to three years in order to create measurable water quality improvements.
Focus Watershed Characteristics
The Plan identifies several characteristics for identifying and selecting a focus watershed where DEQ and leveraged resources can improve water quality. These include:
- Locally-developed Watershed Restoration Plans (WRPs) in place
- Stakeholder interest
- Opportunities to track changes in water quality and other indicators
- Cost-effective BMPs can remedy most NPS pollution
- Existing partnership with DEQ and ability to increase momentum
- Potential to reduce a community’s point source treatment costs
- Coinciding priorities with programs internal and external to DEQ
Current Focus – Bitterroot Watershed
The Bitterroot was selected as the NPS Program’s pilot focus watershed in 2018. To date, the NPS Program has worked with local organizations to update their watershed restoration plan, to evaluate riparian vegetation to aid in project planning and tracking change, to fund direct outreach and project planning, and to distribute over $280,000 in project funds.
During the most recent call for project proposals, the NPS program received over $850,000 in funding requests for projects in the Bitterroot. DEQ anticipates applying nearly $500,000 towards these projects in the coming year, which will leverage approximately $335,000 in non-federal match.
DEQ has coordinated increased long term nutrient water quality monitoring at existing and newly established sites as well as sediment monitoring in headwaters streams. Results will be reported in 2020. DEQ has also worked with all wastewater treatment facilities in the Bitterroot watershed to optimize wastewater treatment operations and costs. DEQ plans to continue focusing resources in the Bitterroot through at least 2021.
Next Focus – Lower Gallatin Watershed
It is important to consider where future resources will focus in order to lay the necessary groundwork to ensure measurable improvements to water quality. Based on the characteristics in the Plan, NPS program staff identified several potential focus areas within the state. Through discussion with state, federal, and local partners, DEQ selected the Lower Gallatin watershed as the next focus watershed.
DEQ is excited to bring resources to address existing and emerging water quality issues in one of the fastest growing areas of the state. Over the next couple of years, DEQ will work with partners to set up water quality monitoring and develop appropriate planning for successful implementation. This effort will build upon the success within the Camp and Godfrey Creek watersheds, which are the current focus of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s National Water Quality Initiative. The NRCS initiative’s efforts within the Deep Creek watershed created a strong partnership network that led to the 2016 removal of sediment as a cause of impairment.
While resources will be focused in the lower watershed, DEQ recognizes the need for more on-the-ground work and planning in the Upper Gallatin as well. The Gallatin River Task Force recently completed the Big Sky Area Sustainable Watershed Stewardship Plan containing recommendations, goals, priorities, and actions to protect and improve the health of the Upper Gallatin watershed. DEQ will continue to support those efforts with the recognition that issues in the upper watershed impact the lower. For example, DEQ is currently supporting nutrient and algae monitoring in the Upper Gallatin watershed in response to local concerns.
By focusing resources into a single watershed, DEQ expects to demonstrate the actions and indicators needed statewide to create measurable improvements in water quality. However, staff resources and the remaining project funding will continue to be available to watersheds statewide. If you have any concerns about water quality or questions about DEQ’s approach, please contact DEQ to explore opportunities for making improvements.
Find more information on nonpoint source pollution from DEQ here.