Stormwater Permits for Montana’s Smaller Cities

On October 17, 2014 the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) published notice of its intent to issue a  stormwater permit covering discharges from small Montana municipalities.


Stormwater pollution is one of the leading causes of water quality impairment in Southwest and West-Central Montana! When water from rain and/or melting snow runs off roofs and roads into our rivers, it picks up toxic chemicals, dirt, trash and disease-carrying organisms. Scientific studies show that stormwater pollution rivals sewage plants and large factories as a source of damaging pollutants in our local waterways.

Even more concerning is the fact that nearly every urban waterway in Southwest and West-Central Montana – whether we look at Bozeman Cr. and Mandeville Cr. in the Bozeman metropolitan area or Prickly Pear Cr and Lake Helena in the greater Helena metropolitan area – is impaired as a matter of science and law, and is listed on Montana’s Impaired Waters List, AKA our states Clean Water Act 303(d) List.

This means that stormwater pollution – and the regulatory mechanisms that address discrete pollution from urbanized areas – is not only a real problem, but a chronic problem that demands immediate attention, adequate funding, and engagement from local citizens, business, and local officials. Southwest and West-Central Montana’s population is growing at prodigious rates and, along with its population, so too pollution in our landscapes and waterways.

[highlight] The required “every 5 years update” to Phase II MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) Permits for small municipalities is a golden opportunity to “do it right, the first time,” as regards controlling and eliminating urban waterway pollution. [/highlight]

Requirements for small municipalities have been in place for over 10 years, yet Montana’s Phase II MS4 permit remains flawed and incapable of providing meaningful direction, accountability, or enforcement mechanisms.  Unfortunately, our state has not seized the opportunity to push forward with a strong, new permit and, instead of updating its existing permit – which is legally, scientifically, and practically flawed – has chosen to repackage and re-use its bunk, existing permit. Over the last year DEQ put together a far more defensible and meaningful Phase II permit but, in the face of opposition from the regulated industry, chose to table that new, stronger permit.

Why? In lieu of a new, stronger permit DEQ’s Fact Sheet speaks to more stakeholder group meetings and discussions, for two years to be precise.  It appears that permittees – that is, the regulated community – will be leading these discussions and meetings, not DEQ, a fact that is troubling, a la the adage the wolves guarding the sheep.

While we understand the agency desire to have support from the regulated community, requirements for small municipalities to control stormwater pollution isn’t new,  it isn’t novel, and its the law. Further, we expect many upcoming discussions will encounter the same old, flawed arguments about the costs of regulation, or why Montana doesn’t need environmental controls. What Montana really doesn’t need is polluted waterways. The time to act is now.

The facts don’t lie: nearly every major waterbody in the Gallatin Valley, and countless other primary waterways in Southwest and West-Central Montana, are already in trouble, being listed on the States’s “Impaired Waters” List pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act. Our local communities are already struggling to control pollution, in part because they don’t have clear guidance from our state regulators.

This is one key reason why we need a strong permit now: clear expectations, based on science and the law, with binding timelines so that communities can responsibly plan and allocate funding and resources to effectively, meaningfully protect waterway and community health.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is reviewing the proposed permit and will to continue our engagement with DEQ to ensure any final permit not only meets baseline legal requirements, but also provides ample opportunity for public participation, meaningful pollution reduction mechanisms, metrics for judging improvement, and reliable enforcement mechanisms.

Citizens and waterways of Southwest and West-Central Montana have a right to clean water and it is our state and local official’s job to make sure that our right to clean water is not just a promise, but a reality. A key part of doing so will entail a strong stormwater permit  for growing municipalities that is transparent, accountable, and enforceable.

Click here to read more about stormwater pollution in Soouthwest and West-Central Montana!

Click here to read public notice ( PN-MT-14-31.pdf ) of the new, proposed General Permit, here to read the General Permit, and here to read a Fact Sheet (Fact.Sheet_.MTR040000.pdf).