De-funded Flathead Water Quality Watchdog Redefines Itself

Jun 20, 2018

The Flathead Basin Commission is redefining its role protecting water quality in northwest Montana, after legislators gutted its funding last November and its executive director was fired in February.

The Commission spent much of Wednesday reinventing itself.

Members discussed which issues they should address. By day’s end, they narrowed in on coordinating water quality monitoring between local agencies, monitoring the development of the Flathead River Management Plan and identifying so-called “orphan issues” that other agencies may have overlooked.

The Commission also voted to propose legislation to the state Water Policy Interim Committee. The Septic Leachate Study Bill calls for investigating methods to address impacts from septic waste systems on Flathead, Whitefish and Echo Lakes. The study would be conducted by the Legislative Services Division and reported to the Water Policy Interim Committee in 2020.

The Basin Commission has long acted as a water quality watchdog in northwest Montana, but a recent turnover in membership, paired with losing most of its operating budget last November, has prompted the group to get back to basics and redefine its role as a coordinator for promoting a healthy watershed.

The Commission voted to appoint a member as a financial liaison to the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in response to previous fundraising that raised eyebrows but no accusations of misconduct. The DNRC administers the legislatively formed Commission.

The Commission’s executive committee will work with the DNRC to flesh out a funding request to the state and continue to refine its strategic plan at its next meeting in October in Polson.