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River Health Check program gets Community Focus grant

The Bitterroot River Health Check, a community based water quality monitoring program, was chosen to be the recipient of the Rapp Family Foundation’s 2017 Community Focus grant. The Rapp Family Foundation’s grant of $15,260 will go toward the purchase of the equipment necessary to establish a permanent headquarters/laboratory for the Bitterroot River Health Check at the Bitterroot College UM in Hamilton.

 

The Rapp Family Foundation was formed to support non-profit organizations in Ravalli County and has been gifting to individual organizations since 1991. In an effort to encourage non-profits to work together, the Foundation decided in 2016 to take applications that demonstrate an effort by multiple organizations to contribute their personnel, efforts and funds to create something that enhances the community and that would benefit a wide segment of the population.

 

“The Rapp Family Foundation has helped an incredible number of non-profit organizations in the Bitterroot valley for well over a dozen years now,” said Bitterroot River Health Check program director Michael Howell. “We are really honored to have become a part of that legacy.”

 

The Bitterroot River Health Check is a community based and locally supported volunteer water quality monitoring program that was initiated as a cooperative effort between the Bitterroot River Protection Association, Bitterroot Trout Unlimited and Bitterrooters for Planning. It quickly gained community support from individuals and businesses, such as Big Creek Coffee Roasters which created the “Aqua Pura” blend and donates $1 to the river health check program from every bag sold.

 

This summer the Bitterroot River Health Check volunteers worked as “citizen scientists” for the Department of Environmental Quality, collecting samples at four sites from Darby to Florence as part of the state’s longterm water quality monitoring project in the Clark Fork Basin. This sampling project alone is currently funded for five years but is meant to run indefinitely.

 

But the Bitterroot River Health Check’s goals extend beyond the mainstem of the river and into the entire watershed. In order to accomplish those goals the program needed a centrally located headquarters with a refrigerator, freezer and ice chests, as well as the instruments needed to sample the various parameters and a safe storage place for records.

 

The Bitterroot College University of Montana is an ideal location. It is not only centrally located in the valley, geographically, but it is also centrally located in the community. It was at the second annual Bitterroot College-sponsored Water Symposium that the Bitterroot River Protection Association had the opportunity to present its plans for a modest but significant sampling project on the Bitterroot River to the community.

 

“The response was so immediate, genuine and so supportive from university professors, from other organizations, and from members of the general public, that a vision sprouted of something way beyond any particular water quality monitoring project,” said Howell, who also serves as director of the Bitterroot River Protection Association. “It was the vision of an institution. A locally formed, locally driven, and locally funded institution that would ensure that water quality monitoring became a tradition in the Bitterroot that would continue in perpetuity. It was something only a community can really do.”

 

“We want to express our gratitude to the college for the way in which it has from its inception worked to integrate itself into the full community and involve itself in community affairs, facilitating the kinds of interactions that spawn new, innovative and creative ways of addressing issues from water quality to homelessness,” said Howell. “And once again, we express our gratitude for the Rapp Family Foundation’s support of such community based projects.”

 

Bitterroot College UM professor George Furniss said, “One of our greatest economic drivers in Ravalli County are the dollars spent and earned and the happiness enjoyed by fishing, recreation, and irrigation, all provided by clean water flowing in the Bitterroot River. Bitterroot College wants to support community engagement involved in protecting the value of the Bitterroot River.”

 

For more information contact Bitterroot River Health Check, program director Michael Howell at (406) 239-4838 or email bitterrootriverprotection@gmail.com and/or Bitterroot College UM Professor George Furniss at comogeo@gmail.com.

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