Montana Department of Environmental Quality About Us Permitting & Operator Assistance Public Participation

Lakes, Streams & Wetlands

Program Overview

The Water Quality Planning Bureau is responsible for administering four vital functions related to the Clean Water Act. 

Visit the Clean Water Act Information Center on the Resources page to find information about the quality of Montana's rivers, streams, and lakes in relation to Montana's water quality assessments. These assessments are based on available statewide water monitoring data and information. The Clean Water Act Information Center also provides access to Montana's Water Quality Reports and List of Impaired Surface Waters, as well as online search and mapping tools.

Clean Water Act Information Center


Water quality standards consist of several parts:

  • Beneficial uses — Identify how people, aquatic communities, and wildlife use our waters
  • Numeric standards — Amounts of specific pollutants allowed in a body of water and still protects it for the beneficial uses
  • Narrative standards — Statements of unacceptable conditions in and on the water
  • Nondegradation protections — Extra protection for high-quality or unique waters and existing uses

Together, the beneficial uses, numeric and narrative standards, and nondegration protections provide the framework for achieving Federal Clean Water Act and Montana Water Quality Act goals and protecting Montana water resources.

Monitoring & Assessment

DEQ’s Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Section assesses whether state waters meet water quality standards and support beneficial uses. Beneficial use assessment is one step in the water quality planning process; it requires monitoring and informs Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and water quality protection and restoration. Tracking changes in water quality may also be important to determine if conditions are improving or deteriorating over time. DEQ supports numerous professional and volunteer monitoring partnerships across Montana that align with our vision.

Watershed Protection

Watershed Protection section is responsible for administering the Nonpoint Source Program and TMDL program

Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program

The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program identifies sources of pollution to streams, rivers, and lakes within Montana and determines how much pollution those waters can sustain and still fully support beneficial uses. Plans are then written that outline how to reduce pollution to those waters while offering ways to assist local communities with finding solutions to restore and maintain clean water.

Nonpoint Source Program

Nonpoint source pollution typically comes from diffuse sources, such as grazing, timber harvest, abandoned mine lands, irrigation, recreation, and septic systems. It includes a wide range of pollutants and conditions, including nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), heavy metals, sediment, loss of riparian habitat, streamflow alteration, and temperature changes. Montana’s goal is to provide a clean and healthy environment by protecting and restoring water quality from the harmful effects of nonpoint source pollution. We believe this can best be achieved through voluntary implementation of land, soil, and water conservation practices.


Wetlands are valuable for providing flood and erosion control, enhancing water quality, and providing wildlife and fish habitat. Wetlands continue to be impacted and lost as roads are expanded, land is developed, and due to cumulative impacts from numerous activities such as draining, changes in land management, and landowner preference for open water ponds. DEQ's Water Quality Planning Bureau is responsible for coordinating and providing leadership to wetland conservation activities statewide. These projects range from an Evaluation of Wetland Impacts in the State of Montana, to Developing Education and Information about Montana Wetlands, to a Local Partnership composed of local government, wetland ecologist, and community volunteers to inventory wetlands for restoration and management needs.


Water Quality Planning Bureau Contacts

Bureau Chief
Galen Steffens (406) 444-2680

Program Support Specialist
Theresa Froehlich (406) 444-6764

Watershed Protection Section

Section Supervisor
Kristy Fortman (406) 444-7425

Monitoring and Assessment Section

Section Supervisor
Darrin Kron (406) 444-4765

Water Quality Standards Section

Section Supervisor
Myla Kelly (406) 444-3639

Submit Data

DEQ provides detailed guidance to organizations, individuals, and laboratories on how to submit ambient water quality data to DEQ. Montana uses a system called the Montana EquIS Water Quality Exchange (MT-eWQX) to store water quality monitoring data, including physical, chemical, biological and habitat data, from locations across the state. Once verified, these data are submitted to EPA's Water Quality Portal, where they are publicly available.

The steps below are provided to help organizations and volunteers submit their data through DEQ's data portal.

Step 1: Prepare Your EDD

Data must be submitted to MT-eWQX in a specific electronic format known as an Electronic Data Deliverable (EDD). Data providers are required to download the MT-eWQX EDD and populate it with the project data to be submitted. Detailed guidance for populating the MT-eWQX EDD can be found in the MT-eWQX Guidance Manual. Data submittals in specific response to the department’s biennial ‘Call for Data’ supporting water quality assessments have a specific guidance manual, which is provided below.

MT-eWQX EDD MT-eWQX Guidance Manual MT-eWQX Guidance Manual - Call for Data


Step 2: Validate Your EDD

After the MT-eWQX EDD is populated, all data must be validated using the EQuIS Data Processor (EDP). The EDP is a standalone application that allows data providers to check their EDD files prior to submission to ensure they are formatted correctly. The EDD must have a clean validation from the EDP prior to data submission to DEQ. Refer to the EDP Guidance Manual for detailed instructions.

EDP Guidance Manual Download EDP

Step 3: Submit Your EDD

In order to submit an EDD, the following are required:

Information about all the above requirements can be found within the MT-eWQX Guidance Manual.

If you need assistance during the EDD submittal process, contact Deanna Tarum or Jolene McQuillan.

Additional Information

The following field forms are provided by DEQ to assist with project data management:

Subscribe for Important Updates

Receive important updates about MT-eWQX, including when updated reference value lists are posted, anticipated outages for maintenance, or training opportunities.

Subscribe: MT-eWQX ListServ
Information for Laboratories

Laboratory MT-eWQX EDD

This link is provided to assist laboratories in producing a MT-eWQX compatible EDD. The requirements provided in this document are specific for laboratories and should not be used by data providers submitting data to DEQ.

NOTE: Labs are required to report both the Method Detection Limit (MDL) and Lower Reporting Limit (LRL) for each result. The MDL value as defined by EPA (40 CFR Appendix B to Part 136) is required. The LRL shall be the value the lab defines as the lower limit of quantitation.

The following templates are provided by DEQ to assist labs in producing a MT-eWQX compatible EDD:

Need Help?

If you need assistance during the EDD submittal process, contact Jolene McQuillan.


Why Water Quality Standards

  • Protect water resources for uses such as fishing, swimming and other recreation, and sustaining fish, bugs, plants, and other aquatic life
  • Are a measure to identify polluted waters or healthy waters in need of protection
  • Guide the limits set on what regulated facilities can discharge to surface water

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to designate beneficial uses for all waters and develop water quality standards to protect each use.

States either develop their own criteria or implement federal criteria for evaluating water quality. These criteria must accurately reflect the latest scientific knowledge. They are based solely on data and scientific judgments about pollutant concentrations and their effects on the environment, aquatic life, and human health. Montana water quality criteria include both numeric and narrative criteria. Water quality criteria for each use class are detailed in the Montana Code Annotated. Additionally, a detailed map of Montana's use classes can be found HERE. (Please note that this map is data intensive, for mobile user or slow internet connections a pdf map is provided HERE) (Note: Montana does not designate use classes for Tribal Nations). Additionally, a map detailing Montana’s Outstanding Resource Waters can be found HERE.

Numeric Criteria

Most of Montana’s water quality criteria are numeric; that is, the criteria define precise, measurable concentrations of pollutants that if exceeded would harm the use. Montana’s numeric water quality criteria are published in Circular DEQ-7 and Circular DEQ-12A.

Montana also has Nutrient Standards Variances which are published in Circular DEQ-12B.

Narrative Criteria

Some pollutants have narrative water quality criteria, which are statements (instead of specific quantities) that describe the desired water quality condition in terms of allowable ranges and maximums (e.g., water pH and temperature) or in terms of specific variation from natural conditions (e.g., water turbidity and color). Each use class defined in the rule has narrative criteria, and some narratives define an allowable change from naturally-occurring conditions. Naturally-occurring conditions are determined by reviewing historical data for a waterbody, if available, or by comparing conditions with a reference waterbody, an unaltered or otherwise in its most natural condition.

Montana’s water quality standards and details of how water quality standards are implemented in point-source discharge permitting are contained in Montana Administrative Rules. All current state water rules and Montana water quality standards are available on the Water Quality Regulations and Forms page.


Nondegradation protections maintain high quality waters from deterioration. Montana’s Nondegradation policy provides three levels of protection for surface waters:

  1. Existing uses of the water body must be maintained and protected.
  2. High water quality (water quality better than the applicable water quality standard) must be maintained unless a lowering of water quality is necessary to accommodate important economic and social development.
  3. Exceptional characteristics of specific waters designated as outstanding, very sensitive, or unique resources -- called outstanding resource value water -- must be maintained and protected.

For more information:

Montana Code Annotated (MCA 75-5) Water Quality Classification & Standards

Water Quality Standards and Modeling Section Supervisor
Myla Kelly (406) 444-3639

Water Quality Science Specialist
Rosie Sada De Suplee (406) 444-5964

Water Quality Science Specialist
Lauren Sullivan (406) 444-5226

Water Quality Science Specialist
Mike Suplee (406) 444-0831

Water Quality Modeler
Eric Regensburger (405) 444-6714

Database Analyst
Jane Madison (406) 444-3409


Monitoring & Assessment

DEQ monitors chemical, physical, and biological properties of our state’s rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. High quality data is necessary to support decision-making. DEQ monitors water quality to:

  • Educate people about water quality;
  • Inform watershed restoration and protection plans;
  • Track trends in water quality;
  • Investigate water quality problems, threats, and improvements;
  • Assess whether waters meet water quality standards and support beneficial uses;
  • Evaluate sources of pollution;
  • Support studies that determine total maximum daily load (TMDL) development;
  • Establish baseline conditions;
  • Develop water quality standards.

Across Montana, trained volunteers monitor water quality in our rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. Volunteer monitoring is a fun and effective tool to educate people about protecting water quality and to engage communities in pollution prevention and restoration. Volunteer monitoring programs are administered by watershed groups, conservation districts, water quality protection districts, non-profit organizations, schools, and other entities. DEQ also provides volunteer monitoring opportunities.

Each volunteer monitoring program is driven by a unique set of monitoring objectives. Volunteers may collect chemical, physical, or biological parameters to evaluate water quality, aquatic habitat, and streamflow. Whether they collect high-quality data for decision-making, or monitor solely for educational purposes, DEQ values the contribution of volunteer monitoring programs.

DEQ’s Volunteer Monitoring Support Program supports volunteer monitoring in several ways:

  • Financial support, such as our Volunteer Monitoring Lab Analysis Program;
  • Technical support, such as trainings and guidance documents;
  • Administering volunteer monitoring opportunities; and
  • Forming partnerships with other entities in the state that also support volunteer monitoring.

Volunteer Monitoring Lab Analysis Support Program

Each year, DEQ seeks applications for up to $4,000 from volunteer monitoring programs seeking financial assistance with laboratory sample analysis and shipping costs associated with water quality monitoring projects. Applicants are required to submit an application, a Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP), and an analytical budget which matches their funding request. This program is for laboratory analysis and sample shipping costs only and does not include funding for Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP) development, travel, monitoring time, purchasing and maintaining field equipment, or other operational costs. All data that is collected using these funds must be uploaded by the awardee to DEQ’s water quality database (MT-eWQX).

2021 Call for Applications

Volunteer Monitoring Guidance & Resources

Monitoring Planning
  • To inquire about equipment available for loan, contact DEQ’s Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment program (406-444-3507) or MSU Extension Water Quality program (406-994-7381)
Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Data Management
Volunteer Monitoring Support Partners

Beneficial use assessment of Montana's rivers, streams, and lakes is tied to goals of the federal Clean Water Act and the Montana Water Quality Act which require states to:

  • Assign designated uses to waters and develop water quality standards to protect those uses;
  • Monitor and assess water quality;
  • List impaired waters that do not meet standards;
  • Identify pollutant sources and set pollutant-reduction goals needed to achieve standards.

DEQ uses available data to assess water quality based on established water quality standards and reports on the status and trends of water quality every two years in Montana’s Water Quality Report and List of Impaired Surface Waters.

Watershed Protection

Understanding the TMDL Development Process

TMDL Priority Areas

TMDL Documents

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) Implementation Evaluations


Nonpoint Source Projects Map

Montana DEQ encourages the development of locally-led Watershed Restoration Plans (WRPs) as a means of charting a path to improved water quality. All 319-funded projects must implement practices identified in a DEQ-accepted Watershed Restoration Plan.

WRP Sponsor Status
Beaverhead Beaverhead Watershed Committee Accepted 2014, under revision, will include Red Rock
Bitterroot Bitter Root Water Forum Accepted 2020
Blackfoot River Blackfoot Challenge Accepted 2014
Central Clark Fork Tributaries   Under Development
Clarks Fork Yellowstone   Under Development
Clearwater Clearwater Resource Council Under Development
Deep Creek Broadwater Conservation District Accepted 2014
Flathead Lake Flathead Lakers Accepted 2014
Flathead Stillwater Flathead Conservation District Accepted 2017
Flint Creek Granite Headwaters Watershed Group Accepted 2014
Kootenai Basin Kootenai River Network Inc Accepted 2015
Lake Helena Lake Helena Watershed Group/Lewis & Clark Water Quality Protection District Accepted 2016
Little Blackfoot Trout Unlimited Accepted 2016
Lolo Creek Lolo Watershed Group Accepted 2013
Lower Clark Fork Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group Accepted 2019
Lower Gallatin Greater Gallatin Watershed Council Accepted 2014
Lower Jefferson River Trout Unlimited Under Development
Madison River Madison Conservation District Under Development
Miller Creek Missoula Valley Water Quality Protection District Accepted 2018
Middle and Lower Big Hole Watershed Big Hole Watershed Committee Accepted 2013, Under Revision
Middle Fork Judith Trout Unlimited Under Development
Ninemile Creek Trout Unlimited Accepted 2013
Rock Creek Trout Unlimited Accepted 2018
Ruby Ruby Watershed Group Accepted 2015
Shields River Watershed Park Conservation District Accepted 2012
St. Regis Trout Unlimited Under Development
Sun River Sun River Watershed Group Accepted 2012, Under Revision
Swan Basin Swan Ecosystem Center Accepted 2012
Teton River Teton Watershed Group Accepted 2010
Thompson River Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group Accepted 2018
Upper & North Fork Big Hole Watershed Big Hole Watershed Committee Accepted 2012
Upper Clark Fork River Tributaries Watershed Restoration Coalition Accepted 2012
Upper Gallatin River Blue Water Task Force Accepted 2012
Upper Jefferson Jefferson River Watershed Council Under Development

319 Project Funding

Through the 319 Project Program, DEQ provides approximately $1,000,000 each year to local watershed groups, conservation districts, educational institutions, and government entities to design and implement on-the-ground projects that reduce and prevent nonpoint source pollution. Increasingly, DEQ is focusing funding on projects that will restore natural processes (e.g., stream channel migration, floodplain connectivity, native riparian revegetation) and are likely to result in measurable improvements in water quality. Check out the Interactive Projects Map to find out what we’ve been funding.

Funding Description

Funding Source: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Section 319(h) of the Federal Clean Water Act.

Total Funding Available: Approximately $1,000,000 annually.

Individual Awards: Recommended: $10,000 to $250,000 per project.

Fiscal Year 2022 Funding Breakdown

Funding will be divided into 3 pots, with unused funds from the Focus Watershed and Mini-Grant pots to be redistributed into the General Projects pot.

General Projects
Estimated Total Amount Available: $400,000 + any unused funds from the other two pots.
Recommended Range for Funding Requests: $10,000-$250,000

Focus Watershed Projects
Estimated Total Amount Available: $500,000
Recommended Range for Funding Requests: $10,000-$250,000
Specific Eligibility Requirements: Projects located in the Bitterroot watershed.

Mini-Grant Programs
Estimated Total Amount Available: $100,000
Recommended Range for Funding Requests: $30,000-$60,000

Cost Share: A 40 percent cost share (match) is required. The match must be from non-federal sources (state, local, private), and may include in-kind donations of time and resources contributed to completion of the project. Use the following formula to calculate the amount of non-federal match required for your project: ((319 dollars requested)/.60) – (319 dollars requested) = required non-federal match

Annual Call for Applications - REVISED 10/22/2021
Current/Recent Applications
Guidance for Funding Recipients (e.g., status/final reports)


The Department of Environmental Quality's nonpoint source program staff work with watershed groups, conservation districts, and state and federal agency partners to provide training, encourage the adoption of sustainable best management practices, and respond to emerging water quality issues. We frequently respond to water quality-related questions, provide on-site project consultation for potential projects, assist with watershed planning efforts, and help connect groups with appropriate funding partners and resources. Please contact any of our staff below for assistance

Contact Name Title Phone Email
Kristy Fortman Section Supervisor 406-444-7425
Mark Ockey Water Quality Specialist 406-465-0039
Eric Trum Water Quality Specialist 406-444-0531
Hannah Riedl Water Quality Specialist 406-444-0549

Water Quality Success Stories

Education and Outreach

DEQ provides limited funding for education and outreach through our E&O Mini-Grants Program, administered by Soil and Water Conservation. We are also often available to provide group presentations on a wide range of watershed health topics. DEQ provides significant support to watershed groups through partnerships and joint projects with the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, Montana Association of Conservation Districts, and state and federal agency partners.

Check out the education and outreach materials below that the 319 Program helped fund.
Topic Summary Project Sponsor
Boating Lake-friendly fueling: a factsheet Flathead Lakers
Landownership, an online resource for buying, selling, or improving land along lakes, streams, and rivers. Lewis and Clark Conservation District
Lawn maintenance Lake-friendly lawns: a factsheet Flathead Lakers
Livestock Management Avoiding algal issues in stockwater ponds: a magazine article MSU Extension
Livestock Management On-site Guide for Livestock Operators Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana
Pet Waste Poop Scoop Signs Gallatin Valley Land Trust
Riparian areas Riparian Awareness Campaign: a video (30 seconds) Missoula Valley Water Quality District
Riparian areas Channel migration zones and easements: The Shape of a River, short video (12 minutes) Montana Aquatic Resources Services
Septic Systems A factsheet Flathead Lakers
Septic Systems A checklist to maintain your septic system's record Flathead Lakers
Streams Montana Stream Permitting: A Guide for Conservation District Supervisors and Others Multiple partners
Watersheds An "augmented reality sandbox" for use as an education tool. Visit Lake County CD's website to learn more, and check out the Lake County Conservation District
Watersheds Audio and printed watershed stories, featuring individuals and organizations around the state. Montana Watershed Coordination
Winter maintenance Winter de-icing: a factsheet Flathead Lakers

Nonpoint Source Management Plan and Annual Reports


The 2020 - 2030 Montana DEQ Wetland Program Plan (Draft) guides activities.

Wetland Maps and Inventories

Channel Migration Zone Maps
Obtaining Wetland Maps for Montana

Webinar: Montana Wetland and Riparian Mapping: Where to Find It and How to Use Them Classification Handout

The following links are web sites where information regarding wetland location can be obtained. This data can be viewed spatially via the web or downloaded by quad/or state into a GIS program.

Montana Wetland and Riparian Mapping Center

The Montana Heritage Wetland and Riparian Mapping Center produces much of the wetland and riparian maps for Montana. Currently NWI does not provide riparian area maps. Maps of provisional wetland data and riparian areas may be available for areas not currently in the NWI data base and can be obtained by contacting the Montana Natural Heritage Program (406) 444-3989.

USFWS National Wetlands Inventory

The NWI Wetlands Mapper allows you to download and view wetlands at a scale of 1:100,000 or less. Using the NWI Wetlands Mapper lets you download wetlands only in the immediate vicinity of the area you are interested in. Wetlands Mapper also has the capability of producing maps that can be printed.

Download Data by State

Google Earth

View NWI Wetlands in Google Earth follow the WetlandsData.KMZ link on NWI Wetlands in Google Earth page.

Montana Spatial Data Infrastructure - Wetlands Layer

Montana allows you to download a statewide dataset of wetlands currently mapped in a GIS shapefile format through the Montana Spatial Data Infrastructure. The MSDI Wetlands and Riparian Areas can also be accessed through the Montana Natural Heritage Web Map or Map Server is GIS.

Not finding wetlands information for your area? Click here to determine if wetlands have been or are scheduled to be mapped in your area.

If you need further assistance, contact Stephen Carpenedo (406) 444-3527 or the Montana Natural Heritage (406) 444-3989.

Tribal Wetlands Programs

The following web pages are to the wetlands resources programs at Montana's Indian Reservations. Some tribes do not maintain wetland programs.

Wetlands Grants

Wetland conservation priorities are funded by an Environmental Protection Agency grant program administered by the DEQ Wetland Coordinator. Currently, there are 20 active grant projects involving state and local governments.

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