Sun River Watershed Group works to protect waterways

Posted at 11:40 AM, Feb 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-15 13:40:28-05

GREAT FALLS — Although often overshadowed by Montana's many famous fly fishing streams, the Sun River is known for its spectacular scenery that its way through the Rocky Mountain Front to Great Falls.

One group that has been working for the past decades in restoring and protecting the river is the Sun River Watershed Group (SRWG). The Sun River Watershed Group was formed in 1994. The original name was "The Muddy Creek Task Force."

SRWG acts task force to address water quality problems on Muddy Creek. Over the past 29 years, SRWG has grown into a 501(c)3 and has addressed issues including water quality, irrigation efficiency, stream bank stability and weed infestations.

SRWG director Tracy Wendt stated, "The nice thing about the watershed is that we have a lot of agriculture in that area, and we also have some amazing fish and wildlife opportunities. Our organization is important because we balance the natural resources for the area and make sure that we can meet the needs of recreation, agriculture and fish and wildlife habitat needs."

Before SRWG's inception, resource discussions in the Sun River watershed were characterized by a history of disputes such as water rights, causes of erosion, water supply for fisheries and recreation, and declining water quality. However, collaboraitve work, led by the Muddy Creek Task Force began to change that by working together to improve one of the worst non-point-source pollution problems in Montana. The group discovered innovative ways to work together to address this issue. After successful work on Muddy Creek, the Group began to address other areas of the watershed.

Wendt explained some of the challenges that go along with protecting and restoring the watershed.

"The main natural resource concerns we work on are stream flows. We also work on water quality to make sure the water is clean. It's definitely a challenge in our area because there is so many different uses. Land and water management can always be improved... SRWG started out as a group of landowners that were troubled with water quality issues on Muddy Creek, so we are a grassroots organization and we came about from landowners caring about their environment."

SRWG partners with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as well as conservation districts and irrigation districts, along with other entities throughout Cascade County.

In celebrating both the Sun and Missouri Rivers, SRWG partners with Missouri River Flyfishers for their annual Winter RiverFest, which will take place at the Newberry (421 Central Avenue). The event is a fundraiser for both organizations, and will include flyfishing films, an art and experience auction, and live music from El Wencho.

Brian Neilsen of Missouri River Flyfishers stated, "We had an opportunity to rebrand our fundraiser, and make it younger and hipper. We moved to the Newberry, and had great success last year. It was one of our best fundraisers ever. We had people from a wider area coming from the state of Montana into Great Falls. We generated more funds for our projects than ever before." The event is sponsored by Vision Net and D.A. Davidson. It will be on Saturday, February 18; doors open at 4pm. Click here for more details.

To learn more about the Sun River Watershed Group, visit the website.

Questions or comments about this story? Contact Cade by clicking here.