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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Montana: Reducing Nutrients in Agricultural Runoff - The Godfrey Creek Project in Gallatin County


The Godfrey Creek project, initiated in 1989 by the Gallatin County Conservation District and other key agencies, has two primary objectives: to demonstrate agricultural best management practices that will reduce suspended solids, fecal coliform, and nitrates in runoff from dairy operations, grazing, and farming practices; and to develop an education program for producers in the watershed.

Several animal confinement operations (dairies, swine, and beef operations) are located immediately adjacent to Godfrey Creek and are the major sources of impairment. But grazing management, riparian area degradation, and crop farming also add to the problem. The education program can help the agricultural community in general understand how its actions impact water quality, the environmental and financial consequences of the impact, and the benefits of improvement.

Farmers turn out

All landowners became actively involved in project implementation at least to the extent of making management changes in their operations. Over 80 percent participated in major efforts such as fencing riparian areas, adopting improved grazing systems, removing livestock from riparian areas, establishing buffer zones, improving manure- handling systems, and improving irrigation water management. In addition, nearly all landowners participated in informational tours and meetings.

Because of the expense associated with improvements to the dairies' waste management systems lagoons or similar structures can cost $60,000 to $80,000 each the District pursued multiple funding sources for this project. Major funding was provided by the USDA, section 319, and the state of Montana.

Reductions in nutrients

The District collected baseline data on various water quality parameters for this project, including total suspended solids, nitrate + nitrite, total phosphorus, fecal coliform, and macroinvertebrate samples. To monitor the effectiveness of the project, data collected prior to 1994 were considered preproject; data collected since 1994 were considered postproject.

Samples of these parameters were taken 11 to 19 times a year at each of three sites. Annual means were computed from monthly averages of the raw data to eliminate potential effects of seasonal bias that might occur from an increase in sampling frequency part way through the project. The hydrograph data and relationship between flow and pollutant concentration were also examined to ensure that flow variability would not influence the results.

Postproject data (samples taken in 1995 and 1996) are sufficient to prove that water in Godfrey Creek watershed did improve as a result of project activity. Estimated reductions in mean annual concentrations are 58 percent for total phosphorus and 64 percent for total dissolved solids over preproject conditions (see attached figures). Fecal coliform data also indicate a dramatic 82 percent decline in bacterial contamination. These improvements were not, however, matched by reductions in nitrate plus nitrite. Instead, the data show an (estimated) average increase of nitrate plus nitrite of 24 percent.

Though it has not yet reached its goal of 80 percent reductions in these key indicators (except for fecal coliform), the project is successfully helping landowners gain control of the factors that influence surface and bank erosion and nutrient runoff. Agricultural practices that can be managed to help control nitrate include a combination of irrigation and manure disposal methods. Future project activities may need to emphasize these practices to ensure the full realization of Godfrey Creek's potential.

CONTACT: Bob Bukantis
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
(406) 444-4684

Reclaiming East Spring Creek -
Greater Trout Populations

The East Spring Creek Project was initiated in 1987 by the Flathead County Conservation District with support from the EPA and the Montana Departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources and Conservation, and Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Project goals were to improve water quality by reducing accumulated in-stream sediments, improving the riparian habitat, restoring the trout fishery, and removing debris and debris dams.

East Spring Creek flows through a suburban area near Kalispell, Montana, that is bounded by 194 individual tracts. Thus, the stakeholders, as well as the management activities needed to achieve these goals, were many, and the changes required might have been resisted. However, an exceptional public relations campaign convinced all but two landowners along the stream corridor to participate in the project.

As a result, management changes were far easier to recommend than anyone thought possible, and a number of best management practices (BMPs) were implemented, including fencing, stockwater development, flow control structures, channel reconstruction, erosion control, fish habitat improvement, and riparian vegetation planting. These activities are, in fact, complete, though the monitoring phase continues.

Biological monitoring on East Spring Creek measures water quality and the project's effectiveness. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality sampled macroinvertebrate communities using EPA's Rapid Bioassessment Protocol III (RBP-III), and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks took fish population surveys. Based on these data, conditions improved in two out of three sites included in the macroinvertebrate data. One of the sites improved from moderately to slightly impaired, while the other improved from moderately impaired to unimpaired.

Project success was also clearly indicated by improved trout populations. Trout densities quickly responded to improved habitat from channel reconstruction. Table 1 shows the results of fish density estimates on a reach of East Spring Creek sampled from 1988 to 1995. Estimates of trout density have increased almost threefold since the channel was reconstructed in 1989. When fish biologists sampled a nearby reach of East Spring Creek that had been left in the preproject degraded condition, they found about one-fifth as many trout as were in the restored reach.

Table 1. - East Spring Creek trout abundance (per 150 M)

. 1988 1989 1991 1994 1995 | 1995
Brook 41 15 87 104 82 | 19
Rainbow 5 3 27 42 27 | 0
Cutthroat 0 0 2 5 1 | 0

CONTACT: Bob Bukantis
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
(406) 444-4684

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