The Sun River Watershed works collaboratively to protect and restore the resources of the Sun River watershed and its communities.
The following goals guide the actions of SRWG, including project prioritization, outreach and education initiatives, and organizational policies:
- Restore and protect the health of the Sun River watershed including:
- Restore hydrologic processes
- Improve water quality by reducing sediment, nutrients, and temperature
- Ensure streamflows are adequate in all seasons to support multiple uses, including agriculture, recreation, fish, and wildlife
- Promote healthy fish and wildlife habitat
- Control invasive weeds and reduce infestations
- Foster collaboration across Sun River Watershed stakeholders
- Provide community education about watershed issues and solutions
- Sustain an organization capable of pursuing these goals
SRWG has multiple plans in place to direct and prioritize watershed projects.
Sun River Watershed
The Sun River watershed is located east of the continental divide and south of Glacier National Park, covering an area of 2,220 square miles and straddling Cascade, Lewis + Clark, and Teton Counties. The Sun River starts in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, through Sun Canyon, meandering across the foothills that are home to elk and grizzlies, through rangelands and farms of the valley, and finally flowing into the Missouri River at the city of Great Falls. The river passes through the communities of Augusta, Simms, Fort Shaw, Sun River, Vaughn, and Sun Prairie. Tributaries such as Willow, Muddy, Simms, Big Coulee, Duck, Elk, and Adobe Creeks flow throughout the watershed and into the Sun River.
The Sun River has been historically significant from native people to pioneers to current landowners and users of the watershed. The Blackfeet named the Sun “The Great Medicine Road to the Buffalo” and the basin is said to have once been the greatest game lands west of the Mississippi, home to buffalo, deer, and antelope. Currently, the Sun River is important for irrigating crops, watering cattle, municipal services, recreation, and for fish and wildlife. The Gibson Dam in the Sun Canyon west of the valley and a suite of reservoirs and smaller dams and diversions have been added to enhance and support agriculture in the watershed.
The Sun River Watershed Group was formed in 1994 as a task force to address water quality problems on Muddy Creek. Over the past 25 years, SRWG has grown into a 501(c)3 and has addressed issues including water quality, irrigation efficiency, stream bank stability, weed infestations, and more. SRWG’s projects have always been and remain voluntary, non-regulatory efforts that aim to benefit the people and resources of our watershed.
In 2019, SRWG celebrates 25 years of protecting and restoring the health of the Sun River Watershed.
Over the past 25 years, SRWG has leveraged over $15 million in grants and donations with in-kind and volunteer contributions for a value of over $25 million in implemented projects including:
- Reduction of sediment loads in Muddy Creek by over 170,000 tons per year
- Assessments on over 180 miles of river and tributaries
- 20+ years of water quality and flow data collected
- Removal of more than 500 car bodies and 40 tons of trash through volunteer work days
- Over 30 miles of bank restoration on the Sun River and tributaries
- Conversion of several miles of open ditch to lined canals and pipelines
- Canal automation and wastewater return pumping projects
- Weed removal on over 30,000 acres using 400 volunteers and release of 5 million bio-control insects
- Eight annual weed pull or spray events organized by SRWG and partners in the upper Sun River watershed
In 1999, SRWG received Montana Stewardship, National Reforestation Demonstration, and CF Industries National Watershed awards. In 2004, SRWG received an Environmental Achievement Award and in 2015 was honored as a North American River Prize Finalist.
SRWG is successful largely because of our partnerships. We work with state and federal agencies, local governments, landowners and managers, water managers and users, conservation organizations, and community members.
The Sun River watershed has gone from a basin characterized by disputes over water rights, insufficient water supply, and poor water quality to a watershed that is consistently improving through the efforts of SRWG and our partners. From the Muddy Creek Task Force in 1994 to our incorporation as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 1996, through two and a half decades of collaborative work, the Sun River watershed has become a hub for uniting stakeholders and enacting “local solutions to local problems”. SRWG and our partners have implemented projects using innovative approaches to issues of water quality and supply to ensure a balance between water users, land managers, recreation, and fish + wildlife.
Board of Directors
Erling Juel, Chairperson
Greenfields Irrigation District
John Chase, Vice-chair
Cascade Conservation District
Laura Ziemer, At-large Executive Representative
Muddy Creek Task Force
Teton Conservation District
Lewis + Clark Conservation District
Conservation + Community
Conservation + Community
Tracy Wendt, Watershed Coordinator
Tracy joined SRWG as Watershed Coordinator in October 2018. While attending the University of Montana, she worked on Rock Creek as well as the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers. She then worked for Wyoming Game + Fish on the Popo Agie River in Lander and the East Fork of the Wind River, before joining the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition in Colorado as the project manager. Tracy’s background in flood recovery, habitat improvement, and collaborative project approaches makes her a welcome addition to the Sun River team. In her free time, Tracy can usually be found exploring Montana’s breweries, rivers, and streams with her two dogs, Gus and Huckleberry.
Tracy loves to hear from people who care about our watershed and who want to get involved in our work. Click here to send her an email.