AWR Blog

Water Clean-up Agreement called “Montana’s Most Far-reaching Environmental Victory in a Decade”

contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

“This is easily Montana’s most far-reaching environmental victory in a decade,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, of the recently reached Settlement Agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The original lawsuit, filed in 1997, took the state and federal government to task for not developing standards for how much pollution could be dumped in Montana’s rivers, streams and lakes that exceeded pollution levels allowed by the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. Total Maximum Daily Load or cleanup plans are require to be developed for impaired waters throughout the state.

In his 2003 ruling that sided with the Plaintiffs, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Donald Molloy gave the agencies until 2012 to develop the standards and clean-up plans and also mandated that no new pollution discharge permits or increases in existing permits could be issued for waters already in violation of state water quality standards until those plans were finalized.

Under the Settlement, the state and federal agencies agreed to alter their approach and will have until December 31, 2014 to finalize the clean-up plans for the 664 pollutants in 28 watersheds. The EPA and DEQ found that utilizing a watershed scale approach was more efficient and comprehensive than a stream segment by stream segment approach. The watershed approach ensures that all water quality problems that may be contributing to impairment are adequately understood and helps to develop a TMDL that focuses on restoration of the ecological health of the entire watershed.

“The decision to expand the clean-ups to entire watersheds instead of individual segments of polluted rivers is a major environmental milestone,” said Garrity, “Under the new Agreement, impaired waters that are Federally-designated Bull Trout Critical Habitat and other native trout habitat will have cleanup plans for 664 pollutants in 28 watersheds finalized by 2014.” (see Attachments A & B)

“These clean up plans provide a roadmap for the future,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director of Friends of the Wild Swan. “Once the plans are developed then steps to implement them will ensure that our waters are cold and clean for future generations of people and fish. This will help recover bull trout and other native aquatic life.” The pollutants of concern run the gamut from sedimentation and silt to arsenic, zinc, mercury, lead, copper, cadmium, e. coli, fecal coliform, nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, phosphorus, sulfates, manganese, chromium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and iron.

“Our goal is to restore native fish,” said Garrity. “But obviously, cleaning up the host of pollutants already in Montana’s rivers and lakes will have significant health benefits for all Montanans. There’s simply no doubt that clean water is good for our citizens and our economy and will ensure the continuation of Montana’s well-deserved worldwide reputation for wild trout fisheries.”

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