Help Protect Clean Water! Comment to DEQ

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is proposing to roll back water pollution protections that safeguard our stream and rivers, putting our cold-water fisheries, drinking water, human health, outdoor recreation, and agricultural heritage at risk. Let them know you oppose this effort. Comments are being accepted until February 8, 2022. Email [email protected] to make your comment.

Background: In April, 2021, Governor Gianforte signed the most dangerous dirty water bill from last year’s legislative session, Senate Bill 358, into law. SB 358 revises Montana’s model water quality standards for river and stream health in two substantive ways.  

First, it wholesale eliminates the EPA-approved numeric nutrient criteria that protect waterways from degradation and replaces those well-established, enforceable numeric criteria with an ambiguous, unenforceable, write-as-you-go adaptive management program for nutrients. Second, it greatly expands pollution exemptions for polluting industries discharging into our waterways.  

With the passage of SB 358, Montana went from being a national leader in adopting numeric nutrient standards that protected most of our waterways from harmful algal blooms driven by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, to being the first state in the country to eliminate a proven science-based approach for protecting water quality. 

Rolling-back science-based water quality standards threatens Montana’s world-class rivers, outdoor recreation, human health, agriculture and the public trust: 

  1. Waterways: Montana’s world-class waterways are the lifeblood of our state, supporting blue-ribbon and renown fisheries, trophy wildlife, and our agricultural economy. Eliminating proactive, enforceable, science-based pollution controls represents a critical failure to protect local water quality in our streams, rivers, and lakes and perpetuates algal blooms due to unhealthy levels pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus.   
  1. Outdoor Recreation: Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor recreation economy and the 71,000 jobs and businesses it supports depend on clean water and healthy rivers. Excessive, uncontrolled nutrient pollution entering our rivers and lakes puts the second largest sector of Montana’s economy and the health of the waterways that attract visitors from around the world at risk — all to benefit the polluting special interests that wrote the bill. The same goes for damaging the streams, rivers, and lakes that Montanans have loved for generations, a heritage of outdoor recreation that most Montanans aim to pass on future generations. 
  1. Human Health: All Montana communities and families rely upon clean water for drinking and producing the food we eat. By removing the standards that determine whether a waterbody is polluted by nitrogen and phosphorus – the most pervasive pollutants threatening Montana’s waterways – the health of Montanans’ drinking and irrigation, and livestock water becomes uncertain. This rollback prioritizes industry and corporate polluters over the health of Montana citizens and communities. 
  1. Race to the Bottom – Write as you go standards don’t hold point source polluters accountable. Point source polluters (wastewater treatment plants, refineries, mines, sewage, and other direct discharges into rivers) need to be held accountable for the pollution they contribute to local waterways. The proposed write as you go narrative standards take away the responsibility of major polluters to make progress towards a clear, enforceable, numeric goal for nutrient discharges. Most sectors in Montana already need to invest in necessary upgrades in pollution control technology to protect local water quality, but without clear, enforceable numeric goal posts, that responsibility becomes clouded and is disincentivized.  

The proposed narrative standards allow DEQ and polluters to wait to react to the negative impacts of pollution, like harmful algal blooms, after they happen, rather than preventing those impacts.  Restoring waterway and river health once polluted is a more costly and time-consuming endeavor than proactively managing point-source pollution from the start. 

Need help writing your comment?


Science Should Guide Water Quality Standards: By rolling back science-based, enforceable water quality standards for nutrient pollution, Montana DEQ will have to wait for a visible pollution event to occur before addressing the problem and taking any enforcement action against nutrient pollution discharges. We shouldn’t rely on reactive, subjective, write as you pollute processes and enforcement when it comes to the health of our waterways.  

The “incremental” ‘adaptive management’ approach proposed in the new rule is not only an unenforceable concept that fails to protect our local waterways from pollution, but it is also reactive in nature, encouraging a ‘wait and see’ approach to pollution impacts, including potential mass fish kills, nuisance or even toxic algal blooms, or worse, before the root cause of the pollution is addressed.   

Montana is Taking a Giant Step Backwards: Montana was a national leader adopting science-based, enforceable water quality standards for nutrients in 2015, and we’re now the first in the country to remove strong, science-based nutrient standards that protect our rivers from harmful algal blooms. In the face of climate change, warming water temperatures, variable snowpack and runoff, river flows and persistent drought, the rollback of enforceable numeric standards has put Montana’s waterways in even greater peril. Comment to MT DEQ (email: [email protected]) before Feb. 8, 2022 and ask them to protect our water quality!

Montana Angler owner and American Fisheries Society policy director stand up for clean water in Kansas City

Brian McGeehan, owner of Montana Angler, and Drue Winters, policy director for American Fisheries Society, traveled to Kansas City this week to attend the public hearing on the EPA’s proposal to narrow the definitions of waters protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Brian McGeehan speaks in support for strong protections for our waters, “Our business; and many, many others, relies solely on clean rivers and streams. Without clean water I cannot support my family or the dozens of other families that rely on Montana Angler to make a living.”  Watch the full video of Brian’s statement here

Drue Winters understands how critical clean water protections are for the health of our watersheds,“The rule fails to align with the original intent of the Clean Water Act to ‘to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.’ Further, the rule is inconsistent with more than a half century of scientific research that demonstrates that the integrity of “traditionally navigable” waters fundamentally depends on ephemeral, intermittent, and perennial headwater streams, as well as the many associated lakes, wetlands, and off-channel habitats”.  Watch the full video of Drue’s statement here.


Yes for Clean Water – MTU Sponsors Ballot Initiative

In our last alert we explained why Montana Trout Unlimited supports a ballot initiative filed with the Montana Attorney General’s office that will allow Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reject mines that plan to pollute Montana waters forever.  We supported the original language of the initiative with the understanding that currently permitted mines would be exempt from this regulation. The initiative intends to amend the state’s mining laws to require a new mine to demonstrate that it can be reclaimed without the need for perpetual water treatment.  It gives DEQ the necessary tools to protect Montana taxpayers, future generations and our clean water, while allowing for responsible mineral development. 

Why is this initiative important?

According to a 1995 report from Montana DEQ, Montana has 276 abandoned mines that present significant risk for water pollution. Trout Unlimited analysis of Montana DEQ and EPA data found that Montana has 9,380 miles of streams that are listed as impaired for heavy metals or acidity.

This initiative seeks to prevent future problems and protect Montana taxpayers who have been saddled with the cleanup and treatment costs after mines close. Zortman Landusky Mine has cost taxpayers $26 million already with another $2-3 million each year for ongoing water treatment. At Beal MountainMine, taxpayers have already shelled out over $13 million for clean up and they continue to pick up the bill for ongoing water treatment.  

Concerns from the mining industry and modified language

 On April 8, 2018 the Montana Standard ran an editorial that asserted the ballot initiative, as proposed, would spell the end to operations by Montana Resources in Butte and Golden Sunlight Mine near Cardwell.  Montana Resources also warned its employees that they would be out of a job if the initiative passed.  It has been our position that the ballot initiative language clearly excludes currently permitted mines. 

In an effort to clarify, modified ballot initiative language has been submitted and is going through the approval process.  We want to ensure that when Montanans vote ‘Yes’ on this initiative to hold mining companies accountable and protect our clean water, it is perfectly clear that existing mines and their employees will not be affected.