Montana’s waters are always inviting. Swimming in our waters can be risky. A quick dip in Winter may be fine for Polar Bears but not people and pets. Hypothermia can impact you before you know it.
Big Sky Country boasts about having pristine water, but the truth may surprise you. Any water that emerges from geothermal features contains lead, arsenic, mercury, and other toxins. This means that the watersheds of the Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Madison rivers are polluted, naturally. The rivers that form the Missouri have the same challenges.
Since Montana is a mining and mineral state, we also have mine wastes and chemicals. Health mines contain radiation that also leaks into the aquifers and ecosystem. Many of our high mountain lakes were also exposed to mining pollution.
Now, throw in Agricultural chemicals and animal waste releases along with sewage discharges. Big Sky dumps its treated sewage into the Gallatin River at Big Sky. The East Gallatin flows from the sewage discharge and landfill of Bozeman. Butte has the Berkeley Pit! Livingston discharges its sewage just downstream from Mayor’s Landing access.
The water may look inviting but do some homework before you dive in. Toxic wastes and chemicals are not the only issues. Rattlesnakes also like to swim. On a fishing trip to Martinsdale Reservoir and Harrison, I have encountered rattlers swimming in mid lake! Insects and other aquatic critters cam also create health problems.
Critters such as Beavers also spread bacteria in the wastes. Beaver Fever can ruin your day in a hurry. Nature has no natural chlorine to keep things clean. Parasites, algae’s, and amoebas can also cause issues. These challenges tend to surface when the waters are warmer.
Lakes like Canyon Ferry are flanked by drainages like Confederate Gulch that polluted the area with mercury and other mining toxins.
Physical dangers such as underwater snags, logs, rocks, and shallows can cause injury. Most Montana rocks are round and slippery. Currents, rapids, and waterfalls are also common dangers.
Yellowstone Park has immense geothermal pools that look inviting. These areas are generally off limits but there have always been the foolish folks that jumped in for a quick dip and came out well done. Even in the few areas where swimming is permitted, like the Boiling River near Mammoth, take care.
After any Montana swim, rinse off. Keep water from your mouth, face, and eyes. Do some homework before you jump in. Maybe stay home and take a shower.