Update on Montana’s Municipal Stormwater Permit

Too often we separate what happens in our rivers from the lives we live on land.

The things we do here on land—drive, build, farm—have a big impact on our rivers and wetlands. Clean, healthy riparian areas, rivers, and wetlands are critical to Montana’s outdoors-based economy. Yet our state struggles to meet basic river health standards, and too often neither residents nor visitors can enjoy our iconic waterways because water is polluted.

Stormwater runoff is pollution that travels in rain or snowmelt across impervious surfaces, ending up untreated in our local urban and suburban creeks.
Consider the diverse pollutants that are carried into local streams during but one mid-winter melt, or one big rain storm in the summer: oils & grease, salt, traction sands, heavy metals, harmful nutrients…the list goes on.  Pollution from stormwater is one of the top sources of pollution to local waterways in urban and suburban settings in Montana, affecting fish populations, river health, and recreational opportunities for miles downstream.

Sadly, our state agencies have failed to effectively control stormwater runoff, one of the greatest single sources of pollution to Montana’s waterways.  The statewide stormwater permit adoption process sets the stage for the next 10-15 years of urban runoff management in Montana.  Known as the Municipal Phase II stormwater permit (MS4 permit), the MS4 Permit was revised and adopted by the state in late 2016 following 2 years of stakeholder meetings aimed at improving the permit.  Our strong advocacy throughout that 2 year process resulted in new, stronger terms for developing and urban areas in Montana that protect local creeks and fisheries, such as increased inspections of construction sites and enforcement actions against bad actors who fail to control sediment and other pollutant discharges to local creeks and wetlands.

However, the 2016 MS4 permit also failed to require near-term adoption of low impact development practices, require representative monitoring sufficient to assess compliance or restoration progress, nor mandate urban waterway restoration projects or pollution reductions from large cities.  Because these key flaws undermine any type of meaningful forward motion in local policymaking at city or county levels, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper filed a lawsuit in December 2016.

Now, it is critical to ensure the terms of the improved MS4 permit are actually implemented.  Our 2018 stormwater campaign seeks to build upon the success of our stormwater campaign – which strengthened the statetwide rules controlling urban-based water pollution – and now apply those rules to un-regulatd areas that are degrading local creeks and fishery habitat.

We will use a combination of strong science and legal tools to petition the state of Montana to require new stormwater management and better pollution controls for the fastest growing micropolitan region in Montana: Gallatin County.

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