History of  the Upper Missouri Watershed

For the past 12,000 years, the Missouri River has served as a source of water and food as well as a transportation highway for its inhabitants. The name “Missouri” translates as “People of the Wooden Canoes” and is derived from the Native American tribe of the same name. The Missouri River was revealed to the rest of the world following the epic journey of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery through the legendary Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804 to 1806. Subsequently, the river became the primary thoroughfare for the fur trade and the transportation of goods in the opening of the West to the Pacific Ocean.


Incidents on Montana rivers such as the 2011 oil spill into the Yellowstone river near Laurel, Montana, which discharged 62,000 gallons of crude oil into this waterway, confirmed the urgent need to create an organization that would be dedicated to the stewardship, preservation and protection of the upper Missouri river. The commitment was to establish reliable, scientifically valid baseline data in this river system in order to monitor potentially deleterious occurrences in the future.

Thus, the Upper Missouri Watershed Alliance (UMOWA) was established in 2014 by a group of concerned river users who recognized the need to form an organization to monitor changes and events on this section of the Missouri river. The Upper Missouri river watershed is defined by UMOWA as that reach of river from its origin at the confluence of the Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson rivers at Three Forks, Montana, downstream to the Black Eagle Dam near the city of Great Falls. We also consider the tributaries draining into the Missouri along its course, most notably the Smith, Dearborn, and Sun Rivers, and numerous smaller streams to be an integral part of the watershed.


The economic impact of recreational fishing on the Upper Missouri River cannot be overestimated. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MT FWP) statistics from 2020 show a clear affirmation of the health of this remarkable fishery; 2020 estimates on the Missouri River near Craig, Montana indicate that populations of Rainbow Trout greater than 10 inches were 3,247 per mile and Brown Trout 10 inches and greater were 422 per mile in the Missouri River. See MT FWP’s 2020 population estimates for the Missouri River here.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MT FWP) angler-use latest statistics show that the Upper Missouri River experienced 183,479 angler days during 2015. Of those fishing days, 93,365 were resident anglers and 90,114 were non-resident anglers. The value of a non-resident angler day in 2015 was $646.99/day. As such, the Missouri River section 9 nonresident anglers contributed an estimated $58,302,856 to the local economy. The value of a resident angler day for the river in 2015 was $83.50/day which contributed an estimated $7,795,977. The combined total was $66,098,833; a very significant impact! Our mission at UMOWA is to conserve and enhance the Upper Missouri River’s unique ecological resources to uphold the economy through world-class fishing.

Estimated Contribution of Missouri River Anglers to Local Economy in 2015
Number of Angler Days in 2015


The health and viability of the Upper Missouri River are vital to so many critical users. The entire river system, from the headwaters in Three Forks, Montana to the confluence of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, relies on the Upper Missouri River and its tributaries to be essential sources of clean water for irrigation, navigation, commerce, and recreation.

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