Watershed Data Information Management in Montana

Finding the Trouble Spots

By William B. Samuels and Jonathan M. Pickus, Science Applications International Corporation; Michael Field and Gary Ingman, Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Velda Welch, Montana State Library

One of the roles of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is to develop integrated water, air, waste management, and energy plans to protect Montana's environmental resources. The DEQ monitors ambient water quality, map of Boulder River hydrologic unit showing impaired streams identifies impaired waters, maintains databases describing water quality conditions, and provides countless other services related to the maintenance of the Montana environment.

At right: Map of Boulder River hydrologic unit showing impaired streams.

To assist the department, as well as comply with the Montana Water Quality Act and the Federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided funding to develop a GIS-based watershed data management system. This funding effort led to the development of MontanaView, built on ArcView GIS. The system was designed to meet the specific information management needs of the State of Montana, focusing on water resource management issues. Its goals are to

  • Integrate extensive and diverse data into one system, covering demographic, land use/land cover, infrastructure, and environmental and natural resource information.
  • Establish customized queries for analyzing conditions and trends at various scales, identifying relationships within a specified geographic area, and evaluating actual and potential impacts from existing or planned actions.
  • Orient programs and organizations around geographic areas, such as watersheds, as the primary unit for assessing and managing resources.
  • Support mapping and indicator development for use in technical reports, education, and outreach efforts.


Typically, data used in issuing or reissuing National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits is limited to facility-specific and select receiving water information such as a discharge monitoring report (DMR), designated use(s), and associated water quality standards. However, other pertinent data (e.g., permit violations, land application, endangered species, water rights) is often not considered because it is either inaccessible or unusable. The use of an effective data integration system can overcome this obstacle.

Using GIS in permitting can notably increase program efficiency by reducing time spent on data collection and analysis and by increasing the quality of an agency's products (e.g., NPDES permits). For these reasons, watershed-based permitting is being considered by federal and state regulatory agencies as an avenue for improving the quality of NPDES permits and their protection of aquatic resources as well as increasing the efficiency of the permitting process. Achieving the complement of these goals relies on increasing access to and the usefulness of data for permitters.

MontanaView Data and Functionality

In addition to its use as a permitting support tool, the Montana DEQ has been using GIS to develop a comprehensive list of water bodies in need of water quality restoration and to conduct a historical review of impaired waters. Water chemistry and physical and field parameter data are used in conjunction with habitat information and biological data to make water quality impairment determinations. map of Bull Trout habitat and facility discharge to the Bitterroot RiverThe presence of wildlife is also brought into account. Consider the bull trout; in July 1998, these fish were listed in Montana as a State-threatened species. MontanaView allows the user to view three aspects of bull trout habitat: restoration and conservation areas, core areas, and bull trout streams.

At right: Map of Bull Trout habitat and facility discharge to the Bitterroot River.

The system also provides access to land use information, allowing for the identification of potential pollution sources. MontanaView maps have facilitated the identification of correlations and interrelationships among data sets and information as well as among pollutants and their potential sources.

"The maps are excellent overviews and allow concerned citizens to quickly see information within its proper spatial context instead of rummaging through numerous pages of analytical data," says Perri Phillips of the DEQ Monitoring Section. "These maps are also excellent visual aids during public meetings, whether the discussion is generalized on the large scale or specifically focused on a single water body determination."

Montana's GIS also provides access to EPA's national water quality database, STORET, to identify water quality monitoring stations that meet user-defined requirements for selected parameters. In addition to historical water quality monitoring, the USGS tracks real-time stream flow and stage levels at monitoring stations throughout Montana. The data collected at these stations is available through the Internet. By clicking on a USGS stream flow location, the user can access data for any station for which USGS tracks real-time data. MontanaView automatically connects to the USGS Internet site for Montana (montana.usgs.gov) and pulls up stream flow data for the specific station of interest.

MontanaView is PC-based, runs under Windows 95/98/NT, and links to distributed databases over the Internet. The system provides online access to U.S. EPA mainframe databases and U.S. Geological Survey real-time and historical stream flow data. The Natural Resource Information System (NRIS), maintained by the Montana State Library, was the primary source for the data layers in MontanaView. Water quality and stream flow data was obtained through the EPA and USGS, respectively. Additional Montana State agencies (e.g., Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks) were contacted to obtain other applicable data to be included in the system.

For more information, please contact William B. Samuels, Ph.D., senior scientist, Science Applications International Corporation, 1410 Spring Hill Road, McLean, Virginia 22102 (tel.: 703-288-6860, e-mail: William.B.Samuels@saic.com, Web: www.saic.com).

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