U.S. Water News Online
HELENA -- The amount of contaminated water in Montana has
changed little over the past two years, with about half of all rivers
and streams and 80 percent of lakes still considered contaminated,
says a draft of a new state report.
The report, required by federal and state laws, is intended to
measure water conditions as part of a program for protecting and
improving the quality of rivers, streams and lakes in Montana.
It rates waterways as impaired if changes to natural conditions
are found that result in quality failing to meet state standards
designed to ensure water can be used for such things as fisheries,
agriculture, recreation and aquatic life.
Causes of the pollution range from metals and bank erosion to
changes in flow and increased sediment. The sources include removal
of natural resources and grazing.
The biennial report, on which the public can comment until March
12, identified 9,858 miles of rivers and streams, and 489,582 acres
of lake water as impaired. That represents 47 percent of all river
and stream miles and 81 percent of total lake acreage in the state.
The lake figure is identical to those listed in the 2002 report,
and the amount of rivers and streams is about 104 miles less than two
years ago. Sixteen streams were added and 17 removed from the list.
``We're certainly making progress,'' said Michael Pipp, acting
supervisor for data management in the state Water Quality Planning
Bureau. ``Some people may not be content or happy with the pace, but
we're making progress in development of plans.''
The law mandates that the state devise plans for improving the
quality of waterways labeled impaired. In the process, officials must
establish the ``total maximum daily load'' for each pollutant found
to be causing a violation of state standards in a waterway.
Of the 17 streams removed from the list of impaired waters over
the past two years, 15 were taken off because planning has begun to
improve quality. That means they are no longer considered impaired,
even though the water is no cleaner than it was in 2002.
Sage Creek in northern Liberty and Hill counties is an example.
About 110 miles of the stream were removed from the list because
pollutant limits had been adopted for the water. But, like 2002, the
latest report still found high levels of salinity and nutrients in
the water related to agricultural activities, including crops,
grazing and livestock feeding.
On the other hand, a 52-mile section of Rock Creek in Granite
County above Missoula was delisted because new monitoring showed
improvement in quality. While the 2002 study concluded ``both habitat
and chemistry show impairment,'' the latest report said metals in the
water no longer exceed state standards.
Some waters added to the impaired list were not included before
because no assessment of their quality had been done earlier.
Twenty-five miles of Dog Creek in Fergus County and 18 miles of Eagle
Creek in Chouteau County are two examples.
In all, the report lists 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.
Jeff Barber of the Montana Environmental Information Center said
the report by the Department of Environmental Quality is useful as a
snapshot of water quality in the state. But it doesn't necessarily
ensure improvement in those conditions, because compliance with
pollutant limits is voluntary, he said.
``It's a baseline,'' Barber said. ``It can flag high-priority
sites ... and can be used to get a handle on some areas and get the
easiest cleanup done first.''
Also, he said, most of the impaired water is the result of
agriculture and abandoned mines. There is little that can be done
about widespread farming and ranching effects where the culprits
often are siltation and field runoff, and the state has too little
money to make much of dent in the scores of derelict mines scattered
around Montana, Barber said.
The report showed that agriculture was a factor in 5,713 miles, or
59 percent, of impaired streams.
Pipp said the state must have maximum pollutant limits established
in on all waters by 2007, but that doesn't mean Montana will have an
empty list of impaired streams and lakes. Continuous monitoring of
waterways will find more to put on the roster as a host of human
activities create more contaminated water, he said.
the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.