Update: General Stormwater Permit for Montana’s Large Cities

Did you know Upper Missouri Waterkeeper works with state officials and local, municipal leaders to protect urban creeks from stormwater pollution?
Urban Stormwater

It’s true!  One unique role Upper Missouri Waterkeeper plays is that of a public advocate for clean water in stakeholder groups at the state, regulatory level.  These stakeholder  are opportunities to improve the terms of key pollution controls so that, moving forward, good science and law guides measurable reduction in urban waterway pollution.

In 2015-2016 one of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper’s campaigns is helping regulators and city leaders build a better municipal separate storm sewer system pollution permit (AKA the state “MS4 permit”).  MS4 permits are mandated, nationwide, for cities and urbanized areas that average at least 10,000 in population because these areas contain massive amounts of impervious surfaces (e.g., surfaces that stormwater drains off like pavement, rooftops, etc.)

Stormwater, the seemingly innocent runoff caused by rain or snow, scours pollutants from streets, highways, parking lots, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces and carries them to local streams, lakes, rivers, and local waters. Often, this polluted water is carried through storm sewer systems owned and operated by municipal, county, or state governments and their agencies. Recognizing the severity of the pollution caused by stormwater, the federal Clean Water Act prohibits many of these discharges unless they are covered by a permit which requires the agency to take specific actions to reduce or eliminate sources which contribute pollutants to stormwater.

In collaborating with state officials and municipal leaders, our role is that of a clean water law expert. We advise stakeholders, in each of our monthly meetings, on the requirements of federal and state law and what those requirements mean – as applied – in a pollution permit implemented on the local community level.  On one hand this results in an open dialogue about the importance – and terms – of important pollution permits, and on the other hand our participation helps build local stakeholder awareness (and willingness) to address stormwater pollution controls head on, to responsibly manage local urban water pollution!

Where the Process Stands:  The two-year stakeholder workgroup begun in December 2014 is winding-down in anticipation of DEQ issuing a revised, stronger MS4 permit in summer 2016.  There has been significant improvement in permit language and, from our perspective, an increased understanding of the importance of clean water protections on the municipal level.  However, the workgroup continues to struggle with necessarily strong permit conditions over (a) controlling stormwater runoff from new construction, (b) city duties to reduce existing pollution (such as unnatural discharges of sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, and E.coli) that is already harming local, urban creeks, and (c) monitoring duties, such as what constitutes ‘enough’ monitoring to guide both pollution reduction and pollution prevention strategies.

Examples of Our Work:  We write memos to DEQ and local municipal leaders to help folks understand what the law requires, and how it should be implemented in a final stormwater general permit. 

Click here to read a memo advocating for permit language requiring the use of Low Impact Development strategies.

Click here to read a memo outlining how the permit needs to require strong, accountable pollution controls that help improve local urban creek health.

Stay tuned as we wrap-up our two-years of stormwater advocacy and get ready to review a new MS4 general permit in Montana!