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Montana DEQ solicits public comment on water quality standards

Posted at 6:30 PM, Apr 30, 2024

HELENA — The Montana DEQ is taking public comment on implementing water quality standards for rivers across the state.

In 2021, the legislature passed Senate Bill 358. The law required implementing narrative nutrient standards and the option for an adaptive management program for DEQ.

The DEQ has been creating these standards using 20 years of Montana-specific science and a diverse group of stakeholders.

“We really see this package as an enhanced, more site-specific, more protective package. And that’s an important nuance to the team because we’ve got people that have worked on these standards for 20 years. And we are building on 20 years of work or more,” says Water Quality Division Administrator with MT DEQ, Lindsey Krywaruchka.

Through this creation, a narrative standard will be added to the numerical standard and will be more site specific for medium rivers and wade-able streams. This widens the lens so that water quality can be determined by more metrics.

Altogether these new quality standards will look primarily at concentrations of nitrogen, concentrations of phosphorus, aquatic and insect life, and dissolved oxygen levels. Before this new standard, the DEQ only looked at concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus.

“We’re looking at kind of a dashboard. Instead of just two things, we’ve got four things now on that dashboard,” says Krywaruchka.

The second ruling that DEQ is working on is the adaptive management program which allows for qualified communities to invest in alternative watershed projects that help mitigate pollution.

Protecting these rivers is not only beneficial for the water itself and people and animals who live around it, but people who use Montana waters for work and play, says Krywaruchka.

“This is important to any Montanan who drinks the water here, fishes, recreates. These are the standards that define if that water is healthy and how DEQ protects that water and keeps it healthy,” says Krywaruchka.

The public comment periodruns through June 10.