History of Flathead Lakers Accomplishments

Founded in 1958, the Flathead Lakers has a long history of efforts to protect Flathead Lake and water quality. This is what the Daily InterLake published about the Flathead Lakers as we celebrated the organization’s 50th Anniversary in 2008:

From its inception as a small group of locals who loved the lake, the organization has grown to a membership of 1,500. Over the years the Lakers have been involved in a variety of water-quality campaigns, ranging from the ban on phosphate detergents to upgrading sewage treatment to managing lake levels.

Their efforts are evident in what is still a remarkably clean lake. But many pressures exist on the precious commodity of water, so the work of the Flathead Lakers is likely to be needed for the next 50 years.

We all owe a debt of appreciation to the Lakers and groups like it that are helping protect a major resource in Northwest Montana.


  • Initiated a collaborative effort to conserve and restore critical wetlands and riparian areas along the Flathead River and the lake’s North Shore.
  • Defended Flathead waters from coal mine and coalbed methane proposals upstream in British Columbia.
  • Insisted on better management of summer lake levels during droughts.
  • Worked to secure funding for water quality monitoring.
  • Developed a watershed education program for students.
  • Worked to assure sewage treatment plants were upgraded to remove phosphorus.
  • Intervened to improve the mitigation plan for Kerr Dam and ensure citizen participation, resulting in a plan for recovery of the lower Flathead River and compensation for habitat loss.
  • Initiated a project to reduce negative impacts of personal watercraft.
  • Promoted a citizen-driven ban on phosphate detergents in Flathead and Lake counties.

Historic Flathead Lake & Watershed Milestones

~10,000 years ago glaciers covered much of western Montana and an ice dam created Glacial Lake Missoula. The ice dam formed and broke dozens of times, causing extreme flooding in the Columbia River all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

1812 Canadian explorer David Thompson rode to a hill near Polson and described Flathead Lake in his journal.

1855 Treaty established the Flathead Indian Reservation, which includes the south half of Flathead Lake.

1891 Chief Charlot and a band of Salish people were forced out of the Bitterroot Valley onto the Flathead Reservation by U.S. troops.

1899 University of Montana Flathead Lake Biological Station established.

1910 Glacier National Park established.

1938 Kerr Dam began operation.

1951 Hungry Horse Dam began operation.

1958 Flathead Lakers founded, one of the oldest and largest lake protection organizations in North America.


-A Memorandum of Understanding on summer lake levels was negotiated and signed by the Corps of Engineers, Montana Power Company and the Flathead Lakers.

-1964 Largest flood on record in the Flathead River.

1964 Floods


Cabin Creek Coal Mine proposed in the North Fork Flathead watershed in British Columbia near the international boundary.

Flathead Coalition, a group of businesses, individuals and organizations, established to make recommendations on the proposed Cabin Creek Coal Mine in B.C.

Flathead Basin Water Quality Monitoring Program established.


Environmental Impact Study for the Flathead River produced (related to the threat of upstream coal mining).
Flathead Basin Commission established.

Phosphates in detergents banned in Lake and Flathead counties.

Mysis shrimp established in Flathead Lake after being introduced earlier upstream in Whitefish and Swan lakes.

1988 – International Joint Commission issues a report and recommendations on the Cabin Creek Coal Mine proposal, including recommending the mine not be developed.


Flathead Lakers intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 50-year relicensing of Kerr Dam to ensure public participation and evaluation of the cumulative impacts of dam operations. This resulted in a comprehensive EIS with public involvement, numerous fish and wildlife studies, a major change in the operation of Kerr Dam to protect and restore fisheries, and mitigation funding for the dam’s environmental impacts.
Hungry Horse Dam retrofitted for “selective withdrawal” to naturalize the temperature of water released from the dam to protect and restore fisheries.

A new coal mine is proposed by the Cline Mining Corporation in the B.C. North Fork Flathead watershed, but not developed.

State legislation established noise limits for boats, funded boat waste dump stations on Flathead Lake, and created no-wake zones.


Flathead Lakers initiate the Critical Lands Project to build partnerships to identify and protect or restore lands critical for sustaining clean water in Flathead Lake and its tributaries.

An EIS was produced on the drought management plan for Flathead Lake and Kerr Dam required by the Kerr Dam license.

A new coal mine was proposed at Foisey Creek in the B.C. North Fork Flathead headwaters by the Cline Mining Corporation.

Flathead Basin Aquatic Invasive Species Plan developed.

United Nations science team visited Glacier National Park and the North Fork Flathead watershed to assess the risks of the proposed coal mine on Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Governor Schweitzer and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell signed an agreement banning mining and oil and gas drilling in the transboundary North Fork Flathead watershed.