Montana Public Radio

Montana DEQ Continues Smith River Algae Study

Mar 16, 2020
Originally published on March 17, 2020 9:48 am

DEQ said Tuesday morning after the story had been published that the agency has decided to cancel the in-person meetings for the Smith River Algae Study and will offer the Helena meeting as a live stream on YouTube channel.">DEQ's YouTube channel, Wednesday from 3-5 pm.

Updates on an ongoing study of algae growth on the iconic Smith River are expected from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality this week. Details on the study will be released at public meetings in Helena and White Sulphur Springs.

The Smith River in central Montana flows through forests and limestone canyon walls with only one public put-in and take-out site for nearly 60 miles. Permits to float the river are a highly coveted commodity among anglers and other recreationists.

But in 2015, DEQ and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks started receiving numerous reports about excessive algae growth.

Chace Bell is a water quality monitoring and assessment specialist at DEQ.

“We’ve measured some stuff on the Smith that’s up to a meter long, pretty healthy. It can range in color from bright, emerald, turf-grass green to a bad bleach job,” Bell says.

He leads the ongoing Smith River Nuisance Algae Study, which aims to understand why Cladophora, an algae native to Montana, has suddenly grown in this water body.

“It’s kind of a question mark that we’re investigating currently with this study in our final year of data collection,” Bell says, adding higher air temperatures may be a contributing factor. The team is studying Phosphorus levels in the river and looking at the relationship between the two.

Bell says this algae isn’t harmful to humans, unlike other kinds of algae that cause blooms. He says too much of Cladophora could affect which aquatic insects live in the river, but the main impact right now he says is on recreational activities: boating, fishing, swimming.

Moira Davin, DEQ Public Relations Specialist, said in an e-mail Monday afternoon that the public meeting in Helena Wednesday and White Sulphur Springs Thursday are still scheduled since the agency anticipates attendance will be less than 50 people at each.

Public health officials have warned against holding larger public meetings over coronavirus concerns.

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