Montana’s Proposed Nutrient Pollution Rules

Montana’s Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Board of Environmental Review (BER) have proposed a new strong, science-based rule package addressing the threat nutrient pollution poses to our communities, waterways and economies.

Overall, we support the state’s movement towards stronger pollution rules that recognize and use best available science to inform decisionmaking. However, we do not support widespread nor exclusive reliance on the second, bundled aspect of this new rule package: “variances,” AKA a type of exemption, from the new nutrient standards.

Nutrient pollution and its adverse impacts are not new. However, nutrient pollution continues not only to reduce water quality in harmful ways, but also continues to prove costly to individuals and businesses. Fisheries suffer when oft-related and excessive sediment loading smothers habitat, raises temperatures and helps incite toxic algae blooms. Fish kills, cause by hypoxia (limited dissolved oxygen resulting from algae blooms), deprive fishermen, as well as natural predators, of a catch. Wherever the chance to fish, boat or swim can draw visitors, uncontrolled nutrient pollution can drive those visitors away. The ebbs in tourism that result affect hotels, restaurants, and assorted other tourist-dependent businesses. Further, property owners and infrastructure managers also feel the costs of nutrient pollution:  purifying drinking water and treating wastewater both costs more when it requires filtering out pollution; and property values fall when the nearby stream or lake looks and smells of algae or is no longer home to fish or other aquatic life.

Our comments highlight these concerns in the context of supporting new protective pollution rules incorporating the best-available science while also identifying significant issues with the anticipated reliance on variances. The rules are a good step forward in Montana fulfilling the promises made to citizens under the Clean Water Act. However, we must remain vigilant and ensure that the final rule in fact reflects strong science, common-sense protections for local communities and waterways, and the Clean Water Act’s original intent of protecting and improving water quality.