Stormwater Pollution & Green Infrastructure Solutions

Stormwater runoff is one of the fastest growing sources of pollution in Montana.  As the Big Sky state grows in population, so too do our impacts on the local environment.

Stormwater runoff causes a number of environmental problems:

  • Fast-moving stormwater runoff can erode stream banks, damaging aquatic habitat.
  • Stormwater runoff can push excess nutrients from fertilizers, pet waste, and others into rivers and streams, fueling the growth of algae blooms and causing fish kills.
  • Stormwater runoff can push excess sediment into rivers and streams, blocking sunlight from reaching plants, raising water temperatures, and suffocating macroinvertebrate life.
  • Stormwater runoff can push pesticides, leaking fuel or motor oil, and other chemical contaminants into rivers and streams, harming aquatic life and habitat and degrading water recreation experiences.
  • Stormwater runoff can increase flooding in urban and suburban areas.

As a river basin focused organization, we’re taking a hard look at the way we do business and how we’re growing in population centers and developed regions from Dillon, to Bozeman, to Helena, to Great Falls.  We seek to quantify and qualify what that growth and development means for local waterways, and how local government and landowners can be proactive in managing the negative effects of development.  We’re also focused on innovative, low impact development strategies that change how and where we use our landscapes.  By relying on plants, soil, and natural systems to manage rainfall runoff, green infrastructure tackles the water woes of developing areas and boosts climate resilience.

We’re interested both in ensuring developed areas implement proven best management practices protecting local water quality, and in how green infrastructure policies – such as vegetated rooftops, roadside plantings, absorbent gardens, and other measures that capture, filter, and reduce stormwater – can be implemented to cut down on the amount of flooding and reduces the polluted runoff that reaches sewers, streams, rivers, and lakes.

We’re specifically taking a hard look at solutions to address high-density and prolific exurban sprawl that affects the biological and ecological integrity of our streams.  For example, as Gallatin County grows and parking lots are paved, a disproportionate flow of pollutants from impervious surfaces runs straight into our waterways, which in turn alters natural stream flow, pollutes aquatic habitats, and limits the amount of precipitation that soaks into the soil to replenish groundwater supplies that provides drinking water in many Montana communities.  In southwest and west-central Montana, our groundwater and surface water are hydrologically linked, meaning stormwater directly affects the health of our local waterways.

Waterkeeper is advocating for sustainable development policies at the local and regional level, including Comprehensive Growth Plans for counties, science-based riparian buffer regulations for new development, and the use of green infrastructure in stormwater management.  As our state continues to grow, this work becomes increasingly important in protecting our waterways.