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Law suit settled over Montana’s Water Quality

A law suit was filed by five Montana environmental groups against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for tolerating the failure of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to comply with the U.S. Clean Water Act, the Act passed by Congress in 1972. Thirty years later, the goals of the Act are yet to become a reality. Protections that the public used to take for granted are unraveled by the policies of national administrations and the program to address impaired waters through the “Total Maximum Daily Load” (TMDL) program has yet to be seriously implemented in Montana.

The lawsuit forced the EPA to insist that Montana DEQ establish TMDLs for polluted streams and establish cleanup plans for the state’s impaired waters. Under EPA oversight, Montana will receive $7 million per year to do the job. DEQ will do the field work of determining where the pollution originates and how much pollution a stream can absorb (TMDLs). EPA and DEQ now have until 2012 to assess all Montana’s waters and design cleanup plans. Originally, in 1979, DEQ had asked for the responsibility to do the work and the EPA granted their wishes. Then, due to political, industrial, agricultural and legislative action, DEQ neglected to do anything for twenty years!

As a result of the environmental groups’ lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to base the cleanup plans on the original, extensive 303 (d) list of 1996, rather than the revised, down-scaled list as passed in the 1997 Montana Legislature which magically, by a simple act of this Legislature, cleaned up overnight half of Montana’s impaired streams and waters of the 303 (d) list!

According to the draft of the new, federally required state report, 47% or 9,858 miles of Montana’s rivers and streams, and 81% or 489,582 acres of lakes are still contaminated. The report is intended to measure water conditions as part of a program to protect and improve the quality of rivers and lakes. The Clean Water Act mandates that Montana devise plans for improving the quality of waterways identified as impaired. The state must then establish the “Total Maximum Daily Load” for each pollutant found to be in violation of state standards. Cleanup plans for Montana’s impaired waters are to be completed by 2012. There are 7,600 miles of streams and 55,410 acres of lakes for which the state does not yet have sufficient data to determine their status. ~

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