In 2021, our legislature passed Senate Bill 358, ignoring our opposition and essentially guaranteeing more pollution in Montana waterways. This bill requires that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) undergo rulemaking to roll back Montana’s nutrient water quality standards. These standards limit the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus dischargers can emit into our rivers.
In 2015, Montana was a leader in protecting our water quality by passing a bill requiring DEQ to implement numeric nutrient standards. Numeric standards are science-based and are designed to prevent water quality degradation. Now, we have become the first state with numeric standards to roll them back and follow the much weaker “narrative” approach. This is a huge backslide that only benefits polluters.
There are a slew of reasons we do not support this change:
- Narrative standards take a reactive approach to water quality, rather than a proactive one. Dischargers are not required to change their actions until there is noticeable degradation in a river, lake, or stream.
- Narrative standards require each watershed to have an adaptive management plan. In theory, adaptive management plans look at an entire watershed to take a holistic approach. However, the only way to come up with good adaptive management plans is to base them on years of data (like we did with the GNA). That data does not exist.
- Narrative standards allow dischargers to regulate themselves. The plan is to have all of the dischargers in a watershed get together and hammer out an adaptive management plan that they then submit to DEQ. Beyond the problem of allowing the fox to guard the henhouse, it is also laughable to think that multiple dischargers will be able to agree on the plans.
- These standards are centered around phosphorus, however nitrogen is the main pollutant for most dischargers. Focusing on phosphorus misses the mark.
On December 23, DEQ opened a public comment period on this new rule that will run until February 8.