Bitterroot River Health Check


The Bitterroot River Health Check program is a community-based water quality monitoring program supported by of a collective of individual community members, local businesses, and non-profit organizations, as well as the Bitterroot College.

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The Bitterroot River Health Check program sponsors a team of vounteer monitors trained in the protocols for taking water quality samples in the river, streams and lakes of the  Bitterroot River Basin. The all-volunteer teams work without charge to aid agencies such as DEQ, FWP and others in agency sponsored water quality montioring projects, in training and educational programs at the Bitterroot College and in university related research projects, as well as other independent water quality monitoring projects in the Bitterroot River watereshed.

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The Bitterroot River Health Check Program has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bitterroot College University of Montana allowing for the use of college laboratory facilities and storage in exchange for the use of the river health program’s equipment for classroom educational purposes. The two cooperate in educational and training programs related to the Bitterroot River Watershed.

Bitterroot River Mainstem Water Quality Monitoring project 

During the summer of 2017 a team of 10 volunteer monitors from the Bitterroot River Health Check program began participating with DEQ, the Clark Fork Coalition and the University of Montana Watershed Health Clinic, in a long-term (supposedly funded at the time for five years) water quality monitoring project for the Clark Fork River Basin. Our volunteers collected samples at four sites along the Bitterroot River from the junction of the East and West Forks to Florence.

As part of that process Vicki Watson from the UM Watershed Health Clinic produced a nutrient and algae data report for the Bitterroot that is guiding DEQ and BRPA in its nutrient testing programs in the watershed. Based on her report,  BRPA was successful  in lobbying DEQ to add a fourth site on the Bitterroot to their top-middle-bottom monitoring plan that serves to bracket the City of Hamilton and its wastewater discharge plant by adding a station at the Main Street Bridge.

We monitored at the bridge south of Darby, Main Street and Veterans Bridges in Hamilton, and the bridge at Florence. [Sites at Buckhouse Bridge and MaClay Bridge on the Bitterroot River in Missoula were monitored by the City of Missoula.]

We trained 10 volunteers in the basics of taking water samples, and completed a successful sampling season using the Laboratory at the Missoula sewage treatment plant. 123 volunteer hours were officially logged on the project.


In 2018 BRPA gathered partnership contributions, established an MOU with the Bitterroot College for use of the laboratory, and with a successful Rapp Family Foundation grant purchased the necessary equipment to add several data parameters to our sampling process beyond the nutrient data, including temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and flows.

In 2018 DEQ discontinued its monitoring program in the Bitterroot. But BRPA worked with the agency on updating the 2017 SAP for the Mainstem to reflect a change in Laboratories and refined protocols, and on our own, we implemented the updated Mainstem project for that year.

We also produced and partially implemented  an SAP for a Tributary project monitoring 11 sites on six eastside streams. All of these streams have been listed for some type of impairment or multiple impairments in the 2014 Bitterroot TMDL. Impairments vary for individual streams but include sedimentation, nutrients, temperature, low flow alterations, and alteration in stream-side or littoral vegetation.

The BRHC Field Manual was updated to include protocols for the new equipment and expanded to serve for both mainstem and tributary projects.

The 2018 season monitoring season was successfully completed. It included training a total of 15 volunteers at two separate water sampling training sessions with DEQ instruction. The volunteers logged a total of 262 hours. [The breakdown is: training – 45 hours; River Mainstem – 125 hours; Tributaries – 92 hours]

The 2019 monitoring season is already under way.

After retreating from the Bitterroot in 2018, DEQ has returned in a major way with a Bitterroot River Mainstem Long-Term trend monitoring plan for 2019-2039! DEQ is sponsoring the monitoring at the Darby USGS gage, Main Street bridge in Hamilton, Bell Crossing, Florence, and Buckhouse bridges. BRPA will be conducting the sampling at all these sites and an additional site at the Veteran’s bridge in Hamilton.

The Health Check program’s Tributaries project will also be continued as we monitor 11 sites on six different tributaries on the east side of the valley with monitoring stations on Three Mile, North Burnt Fork, Willow, Skalkaho, Rye and North Rye creeks.

To view the Bitterroot Mainstem Sampling and Analysis Plan follow this link:

Volunteer non-profit

The Bitterroot River Protection Association is a 501(C)(3) non-profit and donations to the Bitterroot River Health Check program are tax deductible. Donations to BRPA’s Bitterroot River Health Check program are spent only on equipment, supplies, laboratory/data analysis and professional services when required. Monitoring team members are all volunteers. All donors receive a complete accounting of all expenditures.




Bitterroot River Protection Association

Bitterroot College University of Montana

University of Montana Watershed Health Clinic

Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Montana Watershed Coordination Council