Jim Lea; Caribou Creek

As an organization, SCA is taking a strategic approach to using participatory science projects to strengthen environmental protection. To that end we have worked to build capacity for community-based participatory science by establishing two robust citizen science water quality monitoring programs in the Priest Lake & Priest River Watersheds. Through these programs SCA is able to work more effectively with the community, regional natural resource management agencies, University of Idaho and the Kalispel Tribe to pro-actively identify and address the most pressing surface water quality threats in our region.

Our Scientific Research Pillar Program has three citizen science water quality monitoring programs.

  • Priest Lake citizen science water quality monitoring program
  • Priest Lake Tributary STREAM water quality monitoring program
  • Priest Lake Algal Plate growth study (currently on hold)

SCA’s water quality monitoring programs benefit the Priest Lake & Priest River Basin community’s by working to protect and conserve regional surface and groundwater quality with real time annual monitoring and increased response time by agency managers to the sources of water quality contamination and issues of concern in the Priest Basin.

Priest Lake Citizen Science Water Quality Monitoring Program (CVMP)

The Priest Lake Watershed is under enormous environmental pressure from a spectrum of sources. Priest Lake is a major regional recreational destination which has experienced a 400% increase in tourism over the last five years (IDRT 2021). The lake is also surrounded by state and federal forest lands that have seen a major increase in harvest rates over the last eight years. Shoreline development has drastically increased including the ditching, draining and development of critical wetlands around the lake. Invasive aquatic species are increasing in lake bays as are increasing amounts of shoreline erosion from increased wave action and land development. Human use of the lake, invasive aquatic species, regional forestry practices, exploding development and other threats are actively degrading the water quality of area lakes, streams and drinking water sources. Outside of SCA’s Priest Lake water quality monitoring programs there are NO long term annual water quality monitoring programs in place in Priest Lake or Upper Priest Lake. With the exception of IDL (monitors temp at Lion, Two Mouth, Indian, Caribou and Trapper) and the state IDEQ - BURP programs, there are NO annual, long term, comprehensive stream water quality monitoring programs occurring in primary stream systems within the watershed.

SCA is the only nonprofit organization whose sole focus is the Priest Lake Watershed. Our primary, strategic focus is conserving and protecting surface and groundwater water resources in this watershed for generations to come.

SCA is the only entity conducting annual water quality monitoring of Priest Lake and regional stream systems and reporting this information to Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ), Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) and the Kalispel Tribe.

James Lea CW

SCA has been conducting water quality monitoring on Priest Lake in conjunction with Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s Citizen Voluntary Monitoring Program (CVMP) since 2008. Water samples are collected and submitted to laboratory (SVL Analytics, CdA) for analysis for Total Nitrogen (TN), Total Phosphorus (TP) & Chlorophyll-a. Field data collected consists of pH, Transparency, Conductivity and full lake profile measurements of water temp and dissolved oxygen are also conducted at 18 sites around Priest Lake from June-September (half of the sites per year).

Sites Include

  • UPLK (Upper Priest Lake, south of mid-lake, .3 mi NE of Navigation Mine) - “deep site” = 30m
  • MOSQ (Mosquito Bay)
  • BREK (Beaver Creek near the Breakwater)
  • SQUA (Squaw Bay, nearshore, .4mi SW of Squaw Cr. Mouth)
  • PLNO (Mid-Lake just North of Huckleberry Bay)- “deep site” = 45m
  • HUCK (Huckleberry Bay, nearshore, .4 mi E of Two Mouth Creek)
  • DIST (Distillery Bay, nearshore, mid-bay))
  • NGRA (North Granite Bay, nearshore, .2 mi NW of Granite Creek muth)
  • GNAR (Granite Reeder Narrows, off Granite Creek Marina) - “deep site” = 30m
  • NREE (North Reeder Bay, nearshore. .006 mi NW of boat ramp)
  • KALI (Kalispell Bay, just north of the PL Marina)
  • PLSO (Priest Lake South, mid-lake, .4 mi E of northeastern cove of Bartoo Island) - “deep site” = 88m
  • COOL (Coolin Bay, off the Warren Beach Wetland)
  • LWPR (Priest River, ~.3Miles North of the Dam)
  • KALI (Kalispell Bay, just north of the PL Marina)
  • CAVA (Southern Cavanaugh Bay)
  • OUTL (Outlet Bay, nearshore, .2 mi N USGS lake monitoring station)
  • LWQA – S (Near the middle of Coolin Bay at beginning of thermocline – Outlet Bay- “deep site” = 45m

The goal of the Priest Lake Citizen’s Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program (CVMP) is to produce reliable, scientifically credible water quality sampling data from Priest Lake and its affiliated waterways that enhances or improves on existing local, state and federal water quality monitoring baseline compliance efforts. The high quality data collected by program volunteers will provide insight into area water quality conditions and help to identify potential threats to local water quality in addition to helping local land managers make more informed land use decisions in our area. This program addresses the need for increased local, long term water quality monitoring information and allows for public participation in the water quality data gathering process.

Priest Lake STREAMS Citizen Science Water Quality Monitoring Program (CVMP)

Multiple Priest Lake streams have been placed on the Federal Clean Water Act 303d deficiency list beginning 1998 through 2012 for not meeting the water TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) for temperatures. Temperatures exceed the guidelines for salmonid spawning and Idaho Bull Trout support. Streams on the 303d list include Soldier, Two Mouth, Lion, Indian, Trapper and Hunter Creeks. In spite of the deficiency listing, water temperature and stream quality have not been consistently monitored.

SCA has been collecting water quality monitoring data; air temperature, stream temperature & pH (beginning in 2018) and nutrients (beginning in 2020) data for TP & TN on 16 primary tributary streams feeding Priest Lake. Data collection and sampling activities occur from April-July at all 16 sites.

Temperature data is collected continuously/annually throughout the year with “Tidbit” temperature gauges that are fixed in streams being monitored by SCA. SCA has an Adopt-A-Stream program in which community members can invest in a “Tidbit” and adopt an unmonitored stream they are concerned about.


Stream sampling locations include:

  • Lion Creek-(Bull Trout-designated critical habitat)
  • Two Mouth-(Bull Trout-designated critical habitat)
  • Indian Creek
  • Hunt Creek
  • Soldier Creek
  • Caribou-(Bull Trout-designated critical habitat)
  • Kalispel Creek
  • Granite Creek
  • Trapper Creek
  • Bear Creek
  • Lamb Creek
  • Cougar Creek
  • Chase Creek
  • Upper Priest River
  • Binarch Creek
  • Upper West Branch

Latest News

The Priest River Watershed Group (PRWG) – Update

SCA is a participant on the Steering Committee of the newly formed (and long time coming) Priest River Watershed Group. The purpose of the PRWG…

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Upcoming Events

SCA Board of Directors Meeting

The third Thursday of every other month.

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