Conservation groups call on the state of Montana to protect the Gallatin River

April 4, 2022

Montana Economy

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Algal blooms on the Gallatin signal the need for pollution control planning; impairment designation


BOZEMAN – On March 31, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Gallatin River Task Force, Montana Trout Unlimited, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and American Rivers filed a petition with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality requesting a Category Impaired Waterway designation. 5 of the middle segment of the Gallatin River under Section 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act. Recurring harmful algal blooms on the Gallatin since 2018 indicate the river is impaired by excessive nutrient pollution, qualifying for a total maximum daily load limit to reduce discharges, helping to protect and restore the health of the river .

“The world-class Gallatin River is turning green due to excess nutrients resulting from booming development pressure, the cumulative impacts of poorly treated sewage and the effects of climate change, together creating a perfect storm for growth. benthic algae that’s altering the river,” said Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “Fortunately, the State of Montana has the tools through the Clean Water Act to protect nutrient-impaired rivers, like the Gallatin. Everyone can agree that the Gallatin River is too integral to our region, to the county outdoor economy, water supply, animal husbandry, agriculture and aquatic life to be ignored.

Recurring neon-green benthic algae blooms – like those that crossed the Gallatin in 2018 and 2020 – degrade recreational experiences and negatively affect fish populations and aquatic communities by decreasing oxygen levels. Prolonged and widespread algal blooms can cause serious damage to the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the Gallatin River if left untreated.

“We have a responsibility to advocate for the health of the Gallatin River and to build stewardship of the river, as an organization and as a community. The Gallatin is a valuable resource that attracts locals and visitors alike. it’s key to our community,” says Kristin Gardner, executive director and scientific director of the Gallatin River Task Force. “Our science indicates that additional nitrogen pollution in the river will continue to facilitate algae growth, and reducing nitrogen pollution in the river is essential if we are to protect the Gallatin for future generations.”

This petition arose out of the DEQ’s decision to forgo Montana’s biennial Water Quality Report and List of Impaired Waters (known as the Integrated Report) where impaired streams like the Middle Gallatin would have been identified. The CWA generally requires DEQ to assess Montana’s water quality and prepare a list of bodies of water that do not meet water quality standards. Those water bodies that do not meet the criteria require a TMDL, a planning tool used to reduce pollution and improve water quality to meet standards necessary to protect health and designated uses of the waterway. . Lack of capacity at the DEQ has delayed the integrated report, so the petition is initiating the necessary TMDL process for the Gallatin Center’s known pollution issues.

“Montana DEQ has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars in 319 funding to reduce nonpoint source pollution in the Gallatin River over the next few years,” said David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “This investment in Gallatin’s water quality and aquatic resources, such as its famous trout fishery, as well as all other important uses of its water, must be supported by an honest and legally required assessment of degradation. A TMDL is a necessary basic tool that DEQ can provide to help solve nutrient-related algae problems that degrade this prized river.

Local businesses affected by the pollution, including Fins & Feathers of Bozeman, Montana Whitewater and Gallatin River Guides, are also supporting the petition. Melanie West, COO of Montana Whitewater, submitted a letter of representation which stated in part, “I am deeply concerned about the seasonal and widespread algal blooms in the mid-Gallatin segment. When I or my staff take clients on the river, they are here largely because of the Gallatin’s very pristine nature and the clear, cool water and excellent recreational opportunities. They’re looking for the “River Flows Through” landscape, and a neon green algae bloom isn’t a pristine experience.

Severe and pervasive algal blooms can degrade, if not destroy, a customer’s experience and their likelihood of returning to my business for another day on the river.

“It is high time that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality stood on the science and recognized that year after year algal blooms on the Gallatin River are a clear indication of a river segment altered that deserves immediate attention for the benefit of people, fish and wildlife,” said Greater Yellowstone Coalition Deputy Director of Conservation Charles Wolf Drimal Under DEQ rules and guidelines, a waterway may be classified as “deteriorated” when there is “overwhelming evidence of deterioration”. This criterion is satisfied by documentation of the growth of thread algae covering the entire river bottom, from bank to bank, and extending continuously downstream for a substantial longitudinal distance (>150m) Documented evidence of algal blooms of this severity and magnitude on the middle Gallatin River can be found here.