January 2016 Update

Happy New Year from your Clean Water Advocates!

We are excited to share a quick program overview with you. The overview provides a good summary of actions Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is taking to protect rivers, fisheries and communities in the upcoming months.

We are deeply thankful to our members and donors who make all of this work possible. And we hope that you will consider supporting us too. Please join or renew your support for Upper Missouri Waterkeeper today, so that we can do more for our rivers and watersheds in 2016!

Together, we are stronger. No single person or organization can tackle all the complex problems facing our rivers and watersheds. But with the right connections, unwavering commitment, knowledge and creative thinking, great strides can be made. That’s why Upper Missouri Waterkeeper exists.

It our mission to be YOUR leaders defending our waterways and communities from projects and actions that would do harm, and to be YOUR advocates for new protections and planning that will provide critical defense and progress in the future.

Improving Urban Stormwater Rules:  The state of Montana is dramatically overhauling its general stormwater permit for cities.  We have been – and continue to in 2016 – meet monthly with leadership from Montana’s largest cities and the Dept. of Env’tl Quality to improve water pollution controls and ensure our state creates a lawful, science-based final stormwater permit that both reduces pollution and guides cities in doing their part to restore polluted urban creeks. We expect a draft general permit to be open for public comment and adoption Summer 2016.

Proposed Copper Mine in the Smith River’s Headwaters:  Two years ago we took legal action to stop the state of Montana from allowing a copper mine to be built in the headwaters of the Smith River.  In 2016 the same, foreign-owned company is back with a new application to the state for the same copper mine.  We’re working with expert scientists right now to analyze the proposal and shine a light on its shortcoming and threats to clean water, fisheries, and communities.  In Spring/Summer 2016 we intend to hold public forums to educate folks on what’s being proposed, what’s at risk, and what can be done. Stay tuned!

Fixing ‘Pollution Diets’ for Impaired Waterways:  Dozens of rivers and streams in Western Montana – from Bozeman Creek in the Gallatin Valley, to Lake Helena, to the Upper Missouri outside Craig – are threatened by unnatural amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, and high temperatures.  When trout streams can’t support trout, or experience annual algal blooms, they get a “pollution diet” expressing how much pollution the waterway can handle and still be healthy.  Unfortunately, many of the pollution diets on local waterways aren’t working, and the state hasn’t taken the initiative to go back and fix those plans.  We’re using expert science to identify these at-risk waterways which aren’t improving, and the law to force the state to take meaningful action to fix pollution plans.  Montana’s waterways are too important to take a backseat priority – our government must be held accountable to create measurable improvements for degraded rivers and creeks.

Strengthening Water Quality Rules:  For the longest time, Montana has worried about water quantity, not quality.  This lopsided focus has resulted in both weak pollution rules with big loopholes for polluters, and uneven enforcement of existing, key pollution controls.  On a practical level this means our decision makers are kicking the can down the road and not putting in action strong, measurable steps that will reduce pollution in Montana’s waterways. In 2015 we identified a glaring example of how new water quality rules for nutrient pollution contain illegal, unfair pollution loopholes for big polluters, and in 2016 we intend to take action to fix those loopholes.

Water Quality in Big Sky, Montana:   As many have seen, the landscape of Big Sky has changed dramatically over the past 20 years and, along with those changes, water quality challenges are becoming increasingly apparent.  Two new scientific reports show that wastewater treatment systems in the Big Sky area are almost uniformly approaching maximum capacity.  Likewise, the two primary local waterways – the South Fork and West Fork – are already polluted with too many nutrients and often too much sediment.  With enormous financial investment in the area and fast-paced development trends, it is critical that accurate science and baseline data be used to identify both ongoing pollution issues and solutions.  We’re doing just that by examining best available science on local stream health and developing strategies that can measurably address ongoing pollution issues and improve degraded waterways.

Protecting Fisheries and Water Quality on the Beaverhead:  Lauded as one of the best brown trout streams in the lower 48, the Beaverhead River and its prize fisheries are threatened by harmful algal blooms, high temperatures, and historic low flows.  For the past two years the river below Clark Canyon Dam to Barretts Diversion has experienced terrible water quality likely due to unhealthy sediment and nutrient pollution, combined with unnatural temperatures.  At the same time there’s a proposal afoot to turn Clark Canyon Dam – an irrigation storage facility – into a hydroelectric plant.  We’re looking at best-available science and the law to ensure required permits for the new hydroelectric facility incorporate strong clean water protections that improve – and not further degrade – water quality and fisheries health on the Beaverhead.