MS4 Permits & Stormwater Woes

Growing communities across Southwest and West-Central Montana are faced with the problem of identifying and addressing serious stormwater pollution issues.

Urban Stormwater

What’s an MS4?

MS4s (AKA Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) are permited entities under the Federal Clean Water Act, designed to address stormwater pollution from urbanized areas.  An MS4 is a conveyance or system of conveyances that is:

  • Owned by a state, city, town, village, or other public entity that discharges to waters of the U.S.;
  • Designed or used to collect or convey stormwater (including storm drains, pipes, ditches, etc.);
  • Not a combined sewer; and
  • Not part of a Publicly Owned Treatment Works (sewage treatment plant).

An MS4 program must implement each of the following 6 Minimum Control Measures (MCMs):

  1. Public Outreach & Education
  2. Public Involvement/Participation
  3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  4. Construction Site Stormwater Runoff
  5. Post-Construction Stormwater Management
  6. Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeepeing

What’s the Big Deal?

Polluted stormwater runoff is commonly transported through MS4s, from which it is often discharged untreated into local waterbodies. To prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into an MS4, operators must obtain a pollution permit and develop a stormwater management program.

Implementation and enforcement of MS4 permits is key to protecting and improving the health of local, urban waterways as MS4 pipes and infrastructure represent many of the primary vectors by which pollutants enter local waters. Community health and strong local economies go hand-in-hand with clean water, and therefore decisionmakers need to balance attention to development with environmental protections and planning.

Unfortunately, maintenance and enforcement of MS4s is often relegated to a low spot on municipalities’ “priority” list, meaning stormwater pollution from urban areas to local waterways in many of Montana’s urban areas is, at best, poorly controlled, and at worst uncontrolled.

The City of Bozeman, for example, is a Phase II MS4, meaning it is a smaller storm sewer system but still has the potential to discharge significant quantities of stormwater pollutants into local waterways. Recent science has shown that the City of Bozeman is failing to maintain or improve its MS4 program, with the consequence being declining health of local urban creeks.

What are We Doing?

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper works on two fronts to help protect local urban water quality.

First, we use best available science in doing outreach and education to local officials, stakeholders, and business to explain the importance of local waterways and why, scientifically, we need to have strong MS4 permits and stormwater protections. Second, we use the right given to citizens under the Federal Clean Water Act and Montana’s Constitution to use the law to enforce stormwater pollution rules and ensure communities’ right to a clean and healthful environment, respectively.

Pollution rules exist because they provide essential protections to local waterways, drinking water supplies, and communities. Without enforcing those rules we degrade our environments and unnecessarily risk significant environmental and economic health. We believe strongly in creating a level playing field where all stakeholders play by the same rules and in so doing, we each do our part to protect local water quality and a healthy environment.