State of Montana’s Proposed Stormwater Pollution Permit Needs Improvement to Protect Waterways from Industrial Wastes

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper Submits Comments Addressing DEQ’s Proposed Multi-Sector General Permit for Industrial Activity

February 28, 2021

Last week, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper submitted a technical comment letter to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) concerning the proposed Montana Pollution Discharge Elimination System (MPDES) Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) for stormwater discharges associated with industrial activity. 

Polluted stormwater run-off is one of the top emerging threats to local Montana waterways. Scrap yards, mines, refineries, wastewater treatment plants, cement plants, and various other industrial stormwater permittees are major contributors of stormwater pollution, which can convey heavy metals and toxic chemicals into our waterways and threaten human health and local water quality.

“If there’s one sector where it’s absolutely critical that we have strict pollution control limits, it’s the industrial sector. The nearly 400 industrial polluting operations across the State of Montana that contribute stormwater pollution to local streams and creeks must be held accountable for adequately controlling their pollution” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “Montana DEQ should be strengthening the permit to better control stormwater pollution, not proposing lax permit terms for managing toxic pollutants that put the health of our citizens and water bodies at risk.”

When industrial facilities obtain a MSGP through the State of Montana’s DEQ, they are required to implement a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) that puts in place Best Management Practices (BMPs) to control polluted stormwater run-off. The requirements in a SWPPP are the functional means for controlling harmful discharges of industrial wastes from industrial operations. Waterkeeper’s technical review of the draft MSGP indicates that DEQ needs to update several areas of this critical permit to be in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act and to reinforce the intent of this permit – protecting our waterways from harmful pollution.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper’s comments urged the agency to address the shortcomings of the proposed permit including:

  • The absence of legally-required public participation opportunities 
  • Ambiguity regarding the public’s right access to information, such as the SWPPPs for each industrial operation; 
  • DEQ’s decision to use non-numeric effluent limits and self-evaluation by permittees, instead of developing numeric pollution limits targeted for each industrial sector; 
  • DEQ’s failure to perform environmental analyses necessary to ensuring permit terms for industrial operators near already degraded waterways are taking special care to protect those waters from further harm; and 
  • Ambiguous monitoring requirements. It’s critical that industrial operators are required to perform representative monitoring sufficient to assure compliance with permit terms and to protect local water quality.

 Read Waterkeeper’s technical comments and recommendations to DEQ here.

Waterkeeper’s technical comment letter represents the first time a conservation organization has critically examined DEQ’s Multi Sector General Permit for industrial stormwater.  With nearly 400 industrial operations across the state of Montana, and over 100 of those operations shown to have at least one violation of existing permit terms according to EPA data, there is both a need and urgency to assure Montana’s environmental regulators are implementing a science-based, lawful pollution control permit for industrial operators.  Upper Missouri Waterkeeper will continue to work alongside DEQ in strengthening the terms of its stormwater permit to control harmful run-off from the industrial sector and to protect Montana’s local water resources.

Click here to view the industrial operations with MSGP permits here.