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Total Maximum Daily Load

Stream PhotoA recently released list of impaired and threatened waters in need of water quality restoration determined that 431 water bodies in Montana are so polluted they do not support fishing, swimming or drinking. This amounts to 29,550 miles of streams and 1,470,302 acres of lakes that are compromised. The name given to the majority of pollution affecting our water bodies is "non-point pollution." This type of pollution affects 90% of Montana's impaired waters and includes the following types of pollution: bacteria, toxic chemicals, nutrients, sediment, salinity, dissolved metals, habitat damage and dewatering. The sources of non-point pollution are runoff from road building, logging, livestock raising, and chemicals from crop fertilizers and pesticides. Any and all of these activities can find their way into the streams and aquifers. Non-point pollution can prevent a water body from supporting beneficial uses.

TMDL is an acronym for "total maximum daily load." A TMDL sets limits on point and non-point source pollution in lakes and stream segments that do not meet, or are not expected to meet, state water quality standards. The "total maximum daily load" measures the amount of pollution in a stream, river or lake, and determines the affect of the pollution on uses such as drinking, fishing, swimming, livestock watering, irrigation of crops, industrial uses, and preserving wetlands.

Although Montana is authorized to manage non-point pollution sources, the controls over non-point pollution are voluntary. Because the Montana Legislature made these controls voluntary, there are no enforceable regulations on non-point pollution. Voluntary controls will make it difficult to enforce TMDL levels for specific water bodies. To remedy this situation, specific enforcement by the state, rather than voluntary regulation, is needed.

Recently Federal Judge Don Malloy in Missoula, ruled that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality must set TMDLs for 900 water bodies in the state by May 2007. Additional water discharge permits cannot be issued if there is no water quality plan for the receiving body of water. The ruling is a result of a suit that sought to implement portions of the Clean Water Act which was enacted in 1972. ~

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