Comment on Montana’s Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards

Every three years the state of Montana must open up its water quality standards for rivers, lakes, and streams and review, revise, develop or adopt changes necessary to protect public health and welfare, enhance the quality of water, and serve the intent of the federal Clean Water Act and Montana Constitution.

triennial review water quality Montana

What’s a Water Quality Standard?

A water quality standard defines the water quality goals of a water body, or portion thereof, by designating the use or uses to be made of the water and by setting criteria necessary to protect the uses.  They must also include 3 parts: the designated use(s) of the water body, water quality criteria necessary to protect those uses, and antidegradation provisions to protect the water’s quality.

Montana’s surface waters possess classifications that, in turn, define the protected, designated uses for those waters.

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Likewise, Montana uses water quality criteria – such as numeric standards, mixing zones & contaminant levels – to enunciate specific levels of protection from certain types of pollutants (think heavy metals, toxics, unnatural nitrogen levels, etc) and to protect communities from pollution.

You can learn more about Montana’s implementing rules and water quality criteria up for comment & amendment by looking at:

  • Circulars DEQ-7 (numeric water quality standards) and DEQ-12(a)-(b) (numeric nutrient WQS & variances)

Simply put, a Triennial Review represents the public’s best opportunity to comment on the legal, scientific, and practical adequacy of each part of a water quality standard.

So…What Can You Comment On?


  • The state’s designated uses and criteria

  • Classification of a particular waterbody

  • Whether all waters in your watershed are protected for, at a minimum, aquatic life and recreation

  • Public involvement procedures

  • Whether the state incorporates numeric criteria as suggested by EPA’s recommended national protection standard(s)

The Timeline 

DEQ is organizing the 2016 Triennial Review a bit differently than in past years. For starters, the  Notice of Triennial Review (click here) kicks off an initial, 60-day comment period specifically intended to give the public and stakeholders an opportunity to express any concerns or highlight particular water quality pollution issues up front.

Click here to view a powerpoint presentation on Montana’s 2016 Triennial Review process.

Those comments would then help DEQ better frame, during summer 2016, necessary changes to Montana’s water quality standards. After internal review of comments, DEQ will publish a draft Triennial Review for public comment, and thereafter submit a proposed rule package to the Board of Environmental Review for approval and incorporation into rule.

For those more graphically inclined, here’s a bullet-point timeline:

  • April-May 2016:  Provide any comments on needed changes to Montana’s WQS to DEQ by June 3rd, 2016

  • June-July 2016:  Internal DEQ analysis of comments and preparation of draft Triennial Review rulemaking

  • August 2016:  DEQ to publish draft Triennial Review rule making for public comment

  • September 2016:  DEQ to incorporate public comment and submit final draft Triennial Review rulemaking to the Board of Env’tl Review (BER)

Next Steps

Waterkeeper will be using this initial comment period to systematically review existing water quality rules and standards, as well as take a look at where Montana has not kept pace with adopting protective standards in line with national pollutant benchmarks.

The 2016 Triennial Review is a critical opportunity to reflect on where Montana’s standards are falling short, and where changes are needed to better protect our rivers and the communities they support.

Interested in learning more, or have a science background and want to help? Contact us directly –