The 2021 Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 358, a measure that threatens the water quality of the state’s rivers, streams, ponds, and creeks by rolling back nutrient pollution protections. Specifically, the bill repealed Montana’s science-based numeric nutrient water standards seeking to replace them with imprecise and hard to enforce narrative standards. Nutrient pollution results from industrial waste and municipal sewage among other sources and can lead to algae and weed-choked rivers and streams. It can also pose a threat to human health.
SB 358 directs the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to create rules defining and enforcing these murky narrative water quality standards. As DEQ embarked on this project, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that four key sections of SB 358 violated the federal Clean Water Act.
Despite the EPA’s disapproval of key sections of SB 358, DEQ has resumed meetings with key stakeholders via a Nutrient Working Group (which includes a Northern Plains representative) and is continuing to move forward with a narrative nutrient standard rulemaking process. The current framework being discussed does not trigger action until after water degradation has occurred. At this point, the damage will have been done. This is a profound backslide for Montana’s water quality.
As pressure mounts on DEQ to deliver a rule, Northern Plains continues to work within the stakeholder group seeking proper accountability to the law and the best protections that can be created given the irresponsible legislation passed in 2021. While polluters are advocating for weaker protections, we will continue to demand Montana’s waters are kept clean.