Comments on Proposed General Permit to Pollute Groundwater

The one element binding Montanans together across all lines is water.  Clean, readily available water is critical to the health and future of Montana’s rivers, landscapes, and communities.

In Montana, any discharges of pollution to either surface water (think rivers, streams, and wetlands) or groundwater must first obtain a permit that sets forth necessary limits and conditions protecting the receiving water’s quality.  Unfortunately, the Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) isn’t doing its job to protect Montana’s groundwater and, instead of using strong science to condition individual applications, the state has proposed a novel ‘General Permit’ that would streamline permitting for most types of domestic wastewater discharged to groundwater.

  • Click here to see the state’s proposed General Permit for Advanced Wastewater Discharges to Groundwater.
  • Click here to see the Fact Sheet for the proposed General Permit.


Recently, there’s been a distinct trend of applications for groundwater pollution discharge permits, as opposed to surface water permits.  This is due in part to stronger legal protections offered to rivers and the willingness of local citizens and conservation organizations to use the law to protect their local waterways.  Science has shown that we must, as a society, reduce pollution discharges to our waterways to keep them healthy and safe.  Similarly, Montana has traditionally viewed groundwater as separate from surface water and, in turn, not offered the same restrictions on pollution, resulting in more applications for groundwater pollution discharge permits.

The most common groundwater pollution permit in Montana involves treating wastewater from suburbs and residential county sprawl outside cities.  While it is important to treat all types of wastewater, it is likewise important to ensure groundwater permits contain critical conditions and limits that protect local water quality, particularly where groundwater is hydrologically-linked to nearby rivers and streams.

The Issue

The DEQ’s proposed General Permit for wastewater discharges to groundwater threatens to pollute local aquifers by allowing discharge permits that…

  • fail to consider pollution impacts on local, connected streams, lakes and river;
  • fail to allow public comment or review of any individual facilities seeking to discharge wastewater pollution; and
  • fail to consider the cumulative impacts of many separate pollution discharges in closed, connected watersheds.

Here, the basic rule of thumb that the ‘devil is in the details’ applies!  Different pollution discharges, in different types of watersheds, demand different types of conditions to protect clean water.  Instead of requiring a probing, thorough review of each application to discharge pollution to groundwater, DEQ’s proposed General Permit would instead create an administrative mechanism that could rubber-stamp all kinds of pollution discharges without thoughtful consider of impacts or imposition of necessary pollution limits.

Our Action

DEQ’s proposed General Permit ignores science telling us our groundwater and surface waters are connected and creates a new legal loophole that could degrade local water quality.  For this reason Waterkeeper sounded the alarm in the conservation community and submitted strong technical comments to DEQ warning them of the legal, scientific, and practical problems with its proposed General Permit.

  • Click here to read our technical comments to DEQ regarding its proposed General Permit for Advanced Wastewater Discharges to Groundwater.

As Montana’s population grows and stressors on our water resources become more acute with each year, we need strong new protections for both surface and groundwater – not administrative rubber-stamp permits that allow more pollution.