Enough is Enough: Montana Cities Need to Get Serious About Clean Water

This October 2016 Upper Missouri Waterkeeper had the opportunity to participate in one of the more important events since the founding of our organization in 2013: the public hearing on the draft Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) Permit from the state DEQ.

Urban Stormwater


You might be wondering what the heck is so important about a pollution permit hearing?  We’ll tell you what – that hearing represented the first time in 15 years that the Montana DEQ made a meaningful step towards addressing polluted, unhealthy urban waterways, and told cities they’re raising the bar for municipal pollution controls. We’re proud to have been a key voice helping improve this permit over the past two-years.

The Montana Phase II MS4 Permit is meant to regulate pollution that discharges directly from urban cities and, often, their suburban sprawl, to local rivers, creeks, springs, and wetlands.  The good news was that the actual draft permit contained many notable improvements from past iterations: it accurately quoted most legal duties to reduce stormwater pollution and, in other cases, recognized the importance of tracking urban centers’ work restoring already polluted urban waterways.  The bad news, however, was that public turn-out was almost zilch, and many stakeholders – including big cities – spoke about their continued opposition to what many see as “red-tape” or unnecessary, expensive government interference.

As a key non-governmental stakeholder, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper not only provided an exhaustive technical review of the draft permit, but also provided oral testimony on the permit’s improvements, but also its flaws.  Notably, the draft permit still lacks limits on the amount of pollution that is allowed to go into already polluted, local waterways and also lacks enforceable deadlines by which these limits must be reached.  These flaws are troublesome as, when it comes to water pollution controls, big cities and developed areas are scientifically-proven to be one of the biggest sources of pollution to Montana’s urban waters.  In turn, as Montana’s cities grow, there is no better time than the present to raise the bar and ensure cities and counties plan for the future by protecting and improving their local water resources.

Even though the hearing is over, DEQ has yet to issue a final permit.  Although the issue is technical, complicated, and most certainly abstract, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper remains 100% committed to ensuring any final permit meets critical clean water law requirements to reduce new stormwater pollution, address lingering pollution in already-impaired waterways, and above all to do so in a transparent, accountable, enforceable manner.

Click here for a little light reading: our technical comments to Montana DEQ regarding its Draft Phase II MS4 Stormwater Permit.