Cleaning Up Urban Stormwater Pollution

Stormwater Discharges

(BOZEMAN, MT) – Upper Missouri Waterkeeper filed a Complaint today, Friday December 30th, 2016, with the Montana 18th District Court challenging the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) new statewide, General Permit for municipal separate storm sewer systems (the MS4 General Permit).

The focus of the lawsuit is on DEQ’s failure to properly draft a pollution permit that complies with state and federal law, not any action by a permittee such as a municipality.

“Polluted runoff is a significant source of pollution to many of Montana’s urban creeks and rivers. Runoff causes public health threats, degraded aquatic habitat, and threatens our ability to fish and swim in local waterways. Many municipalities across Montana are making significant efforts to address this pollution, but as written DEQ’s General Permit – which directs municipal stormwater control – is too vague to ensure progress.

Like good business, cities and counties want clear expectations. The MS4 General Permit does not provide that clarity, nor  require adequate, enforceable plans to address stormwater pollution,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper.

For years the federal Clean Water Act has required heavily populated urban and suburban areas to reduce polluted runoff. The law requires Montana to issue a General Permit that defines, in concrete terms, how permittees will achieve mandated reductions in polluted runoff.

Seven Montana cities (Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula), three counties (Cascade, Missoula, and Yellowstone), and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana State University, and the University of Montana, are subject to the law.

Many of the thirteen permittees have fallen well short of DEQ goals established in previous stormwater permits. Often, the lack of progress was due to vague permit requirements and insufficient funding by the jurisdictions.

“To their credit, some MS4 permittees are now collecting a fee from homeowners and businesses which is dedicated solely to reducing polluted stormwater runoff. This is a big step forward. But citizens have a right to know their money is being well spent,” Alsentzer said.

DEQ’s new MS4 General Permit doesn’t spell out specific water quality improvements, and doesn’t require sufficient water monitoring, among other deficiencies. Without that information, the General Permit cannot ensure accountability and progress addressing the negative impacts that weak pollution controls create for local, urban waterways. It also means that permittees will have a hard time receiving credit for local efforts cleaning-up waterways.

Controlling stormwater is a pay-it-forward proposition; unfortunately, DEQ’s General Permit doesn’t do enough to set Montana cities up to succeed or protect local water resources.

Click here to read the Complaint.

Click here to read Montana’s MS4 General Permit, its Fact Sheet, or DEQ’s Response to Public Comment.