In 1987, when Congress amended the Clean Water Act (CWA), Indian Tribes became eligible to receive grants for Tribal program planning. In 1989, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) applied and received approval for “treatment as a state” (TAS) status under Section 106 of the CWA. The CSKT Water Quality Program began computerizing existing water quality data for the Flathead Reservation. The CSKT Tribes applied and received TAS for Section 303 Water Quality Standards (WQS) of the CWA in 1992. The Water Quality Standards Program began reservation-wide monitoring and drafted interim water quality classifications and standards. In 1995, the Tribal Council adopted the standards; EPA approved them in 1996. New or revised parts of the water quality standards become effective after EPA approval. EPA Action letter, April 2007 approved the revised and updated CSKT WQS, April 2006. CSKT administers the CSKT Water Pollution Control / Water Quality Standards Program and conducts 401 certification activities on the Flathead Indian Reservation (FIR). EPA is the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permitting authority on the FIR. The CSKT Water Pollution Control Program is administered as an Environmental Protection Program component of the CSKT Performance Partnership Grant (PPG).
Water resources on the Flathead Indian Reservation are extensive and varied. All or part of three river drainages (Flathead, Jocko, and Little Bitterroot) flow through the Reservation. This includes approximately 65,086 acres of the south half of Flathead Lake. Flathead Lake is considered the largest, natural, freshwater lake in the western United States. FIR contains the largest irrigation project in Montana, and one of the largest Bureau of Indian Affairs irrigation projects nationwide. There are over one hundred perennial streams, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, large ground water aquifers, wetlands, and many alpine and lowland lakes are contained within the boundaries of the Reservation. The FIR contains outstanding wetland resources. Extensive wetland complexes are associated with these systems and the glacial pothole complex of the Mission Valley, surrounding area of the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, is comprised of over 10,000 individual pothole wetlands. Ground water discharge areas support seeps, springs, hot springs and extensive fens.
CSKT developed a Wetland Conservation Strategy in 1994 and the CSKT Wetland Conservation Plan in 1999. The Tribes are currently in the process of developing Wetland WQ Standards and monitor and assess wetland resources through out the Reservation to address conservation and protection of this important habitat. See Wetland Conservation page for additional information.
Clean water has an integral importance to the Tribes. High quality waters support many uses including drinking, bathing, swimming and recreation, wildlife (birds mammals, amphibians and reptiles), the growth and propagation of salmonid fishes and associated aquatic life, agriculture and cultural uses. Clean waters are important to many forms of life and the habitat that support them. Water quality on the Reservation is generally equal to high standards in the mountains but deteriorates as the waters encounter human impacts across the valley floor. Pollutants such as sediment, pesticides, fertilizers, and in some cases, toxins associated with human activity enter water bodies. The Tribes are committed to preserving, protecting, restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the surface water, ground water, and wetlands of the Flathead Reservation. Thus, CSKT has committed staff and funding to protect water quality for all Reservation residents.
The Water Quality Program includes two full time staff (WQ Program Manager, one WQ Environmental Specialist, and one position currently vacant. Other associated water quality program employees are currently managing their own respective sections.
The Water Quality Program conducts ambient water quality monitoring on Core, Fixed, and Lake monitoring sites across the Reservation and has implemented a Rotating Basin Watershed Assessments approach.
The Tribes applied and received approval for TAS status under CWA § 319 upon completion of a nonpoint source assessment and nonpoint source management plan. CSKT administers the § 319 NPS base Program and applies for Special Project 319 funds for on the ground activities. The NPS Coordinator evaluates various source inputs identified in the Rotating Basin Watershed Assessments, 106 monitoring sites, and develops projects with goals to reduce NPS inputs to FIR waters. See NPS page for additional information.
"The mission of the Water Quality Program is to preserve, protect, restore, and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of all surface waters, ground waters, and wetlands of the Flathead Reservation."