Beers for the Bio Station? Paying for water quality monitoring in Flathead Lake

Water temperature and the types of life it supports are some of the things scientists at the Flathead Lake Biological Station track to determine water quality in the Lake and its tributaries. The Bio Station has been monitoring water quality, and amassing information about the Flathead since its founding in 1899. The station is part of the University of Montana, but it’s funding is delegated by the state legislature as well as through other state, tribal, and federal grants. However, finding funding outside of the legislative allocation has been drying up. Research Scientist Tom Bansak with the Flathead Lake Biological Station says it costs about $150,000 each year to run the Bio Station. Bansak says the state legislature allocates $100,000 to the Station.


In August 2011 the Flathead Lake Biological Station set up two hi-tech buoys along the lakes deep trench. The buoys transmit weather and water quality information to the Bio Station. The information is available to the public, updated every 15 minutes, through the FLBS website.

“And so for the last few years, the Bio Station itself has been making up the shortfall to keep our long term monitoring program going, and there’s a tremendous amount of value of having a long term record of conditions on a water body like Flathead Lake,” Bansak said they started using a more “scientifically rigorous” monitoring protocol in the 1970’s with a proposal to mine in the Canadian North Fork Flathead River basin.

Some of the things researchers look for:

  • Phytoplankton
  • Zooplankton
  • Water temperature

Water quality information available to the public through the FLBS website.

“Tracking the trends of increases and decreases of those different things gives us a good indication of what’s happening in the lake; whether water quality is staying stable, increasing or decreasing,” Bansak said.

Bansak says paying people is the biggest budget item. Next are the tests they run on the water samples, facilities costs, fuel for the boats and maintenance for all the vehicles and equipment. About a year and a half ago the station received a $1-million pledge from a donor wishing to remain anonymous. The Bio Station has until the end of 2014 to match the pledge dollar-for-dollar, and Bansak said they’re at over $250,000 now. Bansak is also the Development Coordinator for the Flathead Lake Monitoring Challenge grant.

As part of public outreach and fundraising the Tamarack Brewery of Lakeside is hosting a Community Tap Night with 75-cents of every pint sold to benefit the Biological Station Wednesday the 15th from 6 to 9PM.


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