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The Basics Of Water Resources In Montana

The Basics of Water Resources in Montana

To northwest Montana, water is perhaps the most vital and valuable natural resource. An understanding of our water resources boils down to two basic factors:

QUANTITY – How much water is there?
QUALITY – What is in the water?

These seemingly simple concepts turn out to be very complex when it comes to management of Montana’s water resources. Dive too deep and it can feel like you’re drowning in the details. Grab my hand and let’s explore the basics of water quantity and quality in Montana.


The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and Montana Watercourse put together handy fact sheets that cover basic concepts of water quantity. View all of the fact sheets here, or find a topic that interests you here:

Who Owns the Water in Montana?

Who Manages Montana’s Water?

How Much Water Is There and How Is It Used?

Glossary – Water Quantity


Check out the links below for an overview of water quality concepts from the US Geological Survey, a handy glossary of water quality terms from the National Water Quality Monitoring Council, and an overview of water quality monitoring, planning, and improvement from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

A Primer on Water Quality

Glossary – Water Quality

Water Quality Planning and Improvement


The Water Information System (WIS) is the starting point for finding water resources information in Montana, such as data on surface water, groundwater, water quality, riparian areas, wetlands, water rights, climate data and more. The WIS makes high quality water information, including GIS data, interactive applications, maps, and water-related links, discoverable to the public from one common starting place.

Montana’s Clean Water Act Information Center is an online database with information about the quality of Montana’s rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands in relation to Montana’s Water Quality Standards.

The DNRC developed a dynamic guide to help residents and water managers in the four major river systems in Montana: the Clark Fork/Kootenai, Upper Missouri, Lower Missouri, and Yellowstone. The 2015 Montana State Water Plan is intended to guide state water policy and management over the near, immediate, and long-term bases. It outlines sixty-eight recommendations compiled by the DNRC from work with regional Basin Advisory Councils for  The Clark Fork and Kootenai River Basins Water Plan was developed as a stand-alone document that guides development and management of basin-specific water resources.

Samantha Tappenbeck

Samantha provides technical support on water-related issues and coordination assistance to conservation districts and local organizations in the Clark Fork and Kootenai River Basins. Her background is in freshwater ecology and aquatic biogeochemistry, and she has conducted research in southeastern Appalachia, the tallgrass prairie of the Midwest, and the northwestern Rocky Mountains. Samantha has lived in the Flathead Valley since 2010 and has previous experience working for the Flathead Lake Biological Station. Samantha can be reached at or 406-291-6314.

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