MISSOULA – Ever wonder what else is swimming in your favorite swimming hole? Now, thanks to the Swim Guide Project and a few dedicated volunteers, those who swim in Flathead Lake can know the answer.
Recently, the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station joined the collaborative Swim Guide Project, along with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Flathead Lake Open Water Swimmers, a United States Masters Swimming club located in Polson.
The community-driven project provides water quality information on the Swim Guide website and smartphone app. Swim Guide helps users easily find which beaches are open for public swimming and if those beaches meet water quality standards to prevent waterborne illnesses. The site currently delivers real-time water quality information for over 7,000 swimming areas in six countries, including Canada, the United States, Mexico and Australia.
In the Swim Guide Project, dedicated volunteers collect water samples from their local recreational or public swim areas and then submit those samples to a laboratory for analysis.
The idea for bringing this project to Flathead Lake came from Mark and Dana Johnston, local community members who founded FLOW Swimmers in 2014.
“They were interested in conducting E. coli testing at public swim areas,” said Adam Baumann, manager of the bio station’s Freshwater Research Lab, where the water samples are analyzed. “I thought it was a really good idea, and we kind of ran with it together. Then they went back to the community to drum up interest in the project.”
Last year, during the project’s inaugural run at Flathead Lake, members of FLOW Swimmers collected samples from three public swimming areas in Polson: City Park, Salish Point and Boettcher Park. Once a week, they sent a sample from each location to FLBS for E. coli testing.
Baumann’s team then processed the samples and returned the data to FLOW Swimmers the following day. The FLOW Swimmers submitted the results to the local newspaper and posted the information on the Swim Guide app.
This year, the number of testing locations at Flathead Lake for the project is expected to double.
“It’s only going to keep growing,” Baumann said. “Not only at Flathead, but surrounding lakes as well. The people who get involved with community-based science projects like this do so because they care about their local environment, their home. In the Flathead Valley, a lot of people care about clean water, so this has a lot of potential.”
Funding for the Swim Guide Project is provided locally by FLOW Swimmers Mark and Joslyn Shackleford of Alpine Designs in Polson and Glenn Malloy of UBS Denver. The Greater Polson Community Foundation also supports the project and accepts tax-deductible donations through its Directed Gift program.