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 is derived from the Native American tribe of the same name and is translated as People of the Wooden Canoes. The 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.


Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MT FWP) angler-use latest statistics show that the upper 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!


The health and viability of the Upper Missouri river are vital to so many critical uses. The river and its tributaries are an essential source of clean water for irrigation, navigation, commerce, and recreation for the entire river system including states downstream from the headwaters all the way to St. Louis where it joins the Mississippi. The economic impact from recreational fishing on the Upper river cannot be overestimated. A clear affirmation of the health of this remarkable fishery are the MT FWP Fish numbers statistics in 2017. The spring estimate for brown trout greater than 10 inches, was 576 per mile and the fall estimate for rainbow trout greater than 10 inches was 4,936 per mile.

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