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Watershed Wellness: With gratitude for our river and our community

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Watershed Wellness: With gratitude for our river and our community

Heather Mullee Barber

Winter has arrived in the Bitterroot. The recent memory of brilliant yellow cottonwoods has been replaced with bare branches hanging over the river. Mornings bring frost-covered fields that glint in the sunrise. Snow is accumulating on the mountain tops, and we all collectively hold our breath hoping it will build a healthy snowpack in the coming months.

Our desire for snowpack extends well beyond hopes for a good ski season; it’s knowing that summer will come again and with it the worry of whether we’ll have enough water.

Years of experience have taught us that worry over water doesn’t go away. An increase in water users, a generally declining snowpack, and earlier runoff will confront us once again, and we’ll wonder what will happen to this place we love and the community that depends on our water resources — because in one way or another, every last one of us does.

Farmers and ranchers need water to irrigate fields, growing food and raising animals that help sustain our communities. Fish and wildlife depend on clean, cold water — and enough of it — to survive and thrive. Anglers and outfitters rely on healthy streams with ample flows while on the lookout for trout. All of this is why the Bitter Root Water Forum is here. We work exclusively in and for the Bitterroot watershed, and the people and wildlife who live here.

We know that changing conditions and a growing community mean that we must constantly think about the future of water resources. It also means we must work together for the future of this place. When we work together, we can make a big difference.

The people of this community are the reason we have been able to do so much for local water resources. Because of you, we complete projects that improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Your support allows us to reach hundreds of students annually with important watershed education, and hundreds more adults with important information about water resources.

Thanks to the generosity of the folks who live in and love the Bitterroot, this year we were able to complete a “rehab-itat” project at the John Owen Fishing Access (at the Stevensville Bridge) by planting and fencing the streambank to improve streamside habitat, reduce erosion, and ultimately provide shade to the river.

Donors and volunteers made it possible to install, monitor and maintain “Roots Against Erosion” at Skalkaho Bend Park, creating a buffer of plants whose roots will protect the park for years to come.

The Friends of Lee Metcalf and other supporters allowed us to finish phase two of planting and fencing on a ranch along the Burnt Fork at the Meyer Ranch, adding extra plants and enforcing a water crossing to enhance stream health.

Hundreds of volunteers and community sponsors have allowed us to remove nearly 20,000 pounds of trash from the Bitterroot River during the Annual River Clean Up since taking on the event in 2012.

This year, our work for local waters is more personal than ever before; my husband and I are welcoming our first child at year-end. Our baby boy should arrive just before the new year, and I can’t wait to share the waters and wonders of the Bitterroot Valley with him.

With so many things out of our control in this world, it has never been more important to me to be a part of water resource conservation in the Bitterroot. Working for the Water Forum means I’m doing everything I can to protect and enhance the rivers and streams that my son will grow up fishing and floating.

We are beyond grateful for the community that supports the Bitter Root Water Forum as we work on behalf of Bitterroot waters. Investing in the conservation of local rivers and streams in your backyard can be the difference for future generations of local fish, wildlife and kids.

Every last one of us depends on water, and if we continue to work together we can make positive impacts for the future of this valley. That’s why the Water Forum is here, and that’s why I remain grateful to serve as the director. Every day, I see how much can be done when people come together for our waters.

From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of my growing family, I thank you for being part of the work to protect, enhance and restore our waters. Happy holidays to you and yours.

“Watershed Wellness” is a monthly installation provided by the Bitter Root Water Forum, a local nonprofit that builds community around the river. Learn more about the Water Forum and their education and restoration programs at


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