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Flathead Lake Biological Station releases 2023 State of the Lake Report

The Flathead Lake Biological Station recently released its findings from 2023
Flathead Lake
Posted at 8:40 AM, Jun 03, 2024

BIGFORK — The Flathead Lake Biological Station recently released its findings from 2023.

“It was a really tough year. Last year, the lake level being down, it was a big problem and caused a lot of issues for a lot of people,” said Flathead Lake Biological Station Director Jim Elser.

While Flathead Lake reached historic lows in 2023, Elser shared that the aquatic life wasn't too impacted since they're accustomed to yearly ebbs and flows.

“This lake net normally fluctuates in level, right? What that means is that along the shallow areas of the lake, we don't have well-developed vegetation communities. For the food webs or the organisms that are present, I don't think the impact was very strong,” detailed Elser

Since 1977, scientists have been monitoring Flathead Lake and the important water sources that feed it.

“There were mines, coal mines considered in the north fork of the Flathead River in the late seventies and such. In fact, that's when the Flathead Monitoring program was established, was to establish a baseline for the lake," Elser shared.

The Flathead Monitoring Program (FMP) takes chemical, biological, and physical data. The funding for this team comes from the State of Montana and from donations.

“Our main sampling station called Mid Lake Deep is about a mile, a little over a mile, off right offshore here from Yellow Bay. They go out and take the water samples and measurements. And then there's a lot of work to do in the lab when they get back here to process those samples, get them ready for analysis,” described Elser.

Periodically, the biological station publishes a State of the Lake Report.

For the report, Elser said the FMP has four key categories.

“We measure regularly water transparency, how clear the water is, how much algae is in the water, how much oxygen is present in the deep waters of the lake. And also the phosphorus levels that are in the lake around here.”

Elser expressed that the 2023 information shows, for 2024 and beyond, the lake is looking healthy since the amount of deep oxygen is increasing, algae growth from phosphorus is at the right level to keep the lake clear, and water quality is great.

“The water quality of the of the lake is outstanding. But really, the long term trends are all very well, I won't say boring, actually, boringly good,” he added.

However, an increase in pollution or a large fire could change that trajectory.

"[People] should — if they use septic systems — they ought to be making sure they're maintained properly. If they're fertilizing their lawns, they could be careful with that, maybe try to avoid it," Elser explained. "If they have shoreline property on a river stream or lake, they should be building nice buffer strip along the lake shore and not running their lawn right up to the edge.

“If there was a big mega burn in the Bob Marshall or in Glacier or something like that or in the North Fork, that would bring a lot of material into the lake," Elser added.