Protecting water and preventing pollution

BOZEMAN – A new nonprofit organization aimed at protecting water and preventing pollution in southwest Montana has opened its doors in Bozeman.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Inc. aims to improve the ecological and aesthetic values of the Upper Missouri River Basin, according to executive director and founder Guy Alsentzer, 29.

What, you may ask, is a waterkeeper? It is a number of things, according to the UMW website:

“The eyes and ears of the watershed; a physical presence on the water via boat patrol; full-time paid public advocate for the watershed; independent nonprofit organization.”

That means on his way back to the office after a meeting with Explore Big Sky, Alsentzer had to take a quick lap down the Mad Mile in his kayak.

Trained as an environmental attorney, Alsentzer spent the last three years with the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, in the mid-Atlantic. Having spent two years living in Bozeman prior to that, he returned with a mission.

UMW aims to focus on lesser-understood, often complex, water quality issues in the approximately 25,000 square-mile Upper Missouri River Basin.

He sees UMW as an “alliance builder.”

“Growth is good. A healthy, strong local economy is good,” Alsentzer said. “We want to see business grow, but that needs to be balanced with preserving the Last Best Place. That means constantly looking at each issue on a case-specific basis: How are we protecting ecological needs, protecting a recreational based economy, while making sure we’re creating sustainable long term growth policies?”

In its entirety, the basin includes riversheds like the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson/Big Hole, as well as the Sun, Smith and mainstem Missouri drainages to the north.

The organization is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, a movement founded by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to empower individuals in protecting and improving their local watersheds. UMW, Alsentzer says, is the only grassroots-based nonprofit in the region exclusively focused on water quality issues affecting this region specifically. – E.W.