The Story of Our Urban Creeks

The Bozeman Chronicle recently published an article examining the poor health of its namesake urban waterway, Bozeman Creek. Read that article here.

While the article started a good discussion, what was missing was a connection between the emerging science behind pollutants harming local water quality and identification of the broken policies and community framework leading to water pollution in Bozeman Creek.

In response we submitted this Op-Ed, pinpointing the challenges – and solutions – to protecting and improving urban waterway health. We believe that 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.

Urban creeks in Montana often present difficulty in ascertaining pollution sources and, in turn, mitigating those pollutant loads. Bozeman Creek is no different. Bozeman Creek is listed as impaired for not meeting its designated uses at law pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and therefore possess a “Total Maximum Daily Load”, aka a pollution diet, intended to be a blueprint for identifying causes of impairment and helping stakeholders take action to correct those imbalances.

In general Bozeman Creek’s pollution diet tells us that roughly 30% of the creek’s pollution comes from upstream non point source (unregulated) agriculture, 40% from the city itself, 20% from unconnected subsurface septic systems (think unregulated suburban sprawl), and 10% typically allocated to the City generously assumed taken care of by near-term improvements. What this science means to us is that although the Creek does see pollution from sources other than the City, the lion’s share comes from the City. In turn, we strongly believe that decisionmakers should be held accountable for not just doing the bare minimum in maintaining and protecting clean water, but should be proactive and aggressive! There is plenty of data and studies to support the concept that protecting and enhancing local urban water resources positively affects local business, economics, and quality of life.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper exists in part to help engage citizens of Southwest and West-Central Montana in ensuring their decisionmakers Remember the River, and take the necessary steps and planning, not to mention allocate sufficient financial resources, to make clean water not just an ideal – but a reality for communities.

Bozeman's primary urban waterway, Bozeman Creek