Welcome to the first "Watershed Wellness" — a monthly installment from the Bitter Root Water Forum, bringing you the latest on watershed health and wellness, tips for living near streams, and more. But first, what is the Water Forum?
Picture a dynamic river that supports a healthy fishery. Envision bountiful streamside habitat for birds and wildlife. Visualize rich landscapes growing food for people and livestock. Imagine a community working together to make all of these things possible. This is the work of the Bitter Root Water Forum.
Serving the Bitterroot Valley for over 25 years, the Water Forum brings our community together to protect, enhance, and restore our watershed. We got our start when local residents came together to learn more about local water resources. Wanting to share what they learned, they offered educational “forums” about the importance of a healthy watershed to the community. After learning about the challenges facing the watershed, the Water Forum began doing on the ground restoration in 2011 to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.
Whether fish or bird, plant or person, we all rely on water. Many things define and differentiate us, but our absolute need for water connects us all. That is why the Water Forum works to build community around our river, the lifeblood of our valley.
Through watershed education and restoration, the Water Forum works to improve and protect our waters. By providing quality education about water resources for youth and adults, we encourage people to protect and enhance the watershed. Boots on the ground restoration work puts these ideas into practice on the landscape.
Striving to continue informing the public about water resource issues, we have partnered with the Ravalli Republic to start this monthly column to cover topics around watershed wellness.
To begin, we thought it was important to start with — what exactly is a watershed? A watershed is an area of land; from ridge to ridge, acting like a funnel, draining all its water to one waterway. The Bitterroot watershed is the area where all the water in the forks, tributaries, and in the ground eventually flows into the Bitterroot River.
Here in the Bitterroot Valley, our watershed is easier to visualize than in flatter areas of the country. The watershed is bordered by the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains to the west, and the crest of the Sapphire Mountains to the east, the headwaters of the Bitterroot River to the south at Lost Trail Pass on the Idaho/Montana border, and north at the confluence of the Bitterroot River with the Clark Fork River in Missoula.
The Bitterroot watershed faces challenges around water quality and water quantity. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has listed 34 streams in the Bitterroot watershed as impaired, meaning they don’t meet state standards for at least one; drinking water, recreation (swimming), aquatic life, or supplying water for agriculture and industry.
In future columns we will delve into ways landowners can be good neighbors to our streams, different types of irrigation practices, basics of water rights, and more. We’d also like to hear from you about what else you’d like to know about our watershed. If you have questions about snowpack, groundwater, ditches, or the fishery, let us know! In addition to our "Watershed Wellness" column, we are creating a video series to answer commonly asked questions about watershed issues. We want to make sure that both the column and the videos give you the information you’d like to be a better-informed citizen.
The Water Forum recognizes that there is no “them” when it comes to water, it’s all “us.” With limited resources we must all work together for our waters, and we’re here to help the community do just that. Thank you for joining us as we kick off this new effort to better connect people to the resource we all rely on.
“Watershed Wellness” is a monthly installation provided by the Bitter Root Water Forum, a local nonprofit that builds community around the river. You can learn more about the Water Forum and their education and restoration programs at www.brwaterforum.org, or on their Facebook page.