State aims new rules at keeping MT waterways free of algae

(GOLD CREEK)- It’s a sure sign of late summer on Montana’s rivers. Thick algae starting to clog some sections of water, stealing oxygen from fish and creating a hazard for recreational users.

However, now new state regulations are… taking effect which are aimed at keeping the nutrients that boost algae growth out of the streams.

Montana has a reputation for its clear, cold waters and Blue Ribbon trout streams. But state experts say increasingly some of those rivers are impacted by nitrogen and phosphorous introduced into the environment by man.

And that’s easily seen with a closer look at the algae growth in rivers like the Upper Clark Fork, where the riverbed becomes a carpet of green as water levels drop and temperatures go up in late summer.

State officials are pointing out this is a much different issue than the highly-publicized battle against invasive aquatic species. That’s because these algaes are natural. They’re native to Montana. But they can still cause big problems in our rivers and streams.

“The reason it’s an issue is because its a plant, so it photosynthesizes, and it’s taking up oxygen,” explains George Mathieus, a planner with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. “So it’s stealing if you will the dissolved oxygen from fish and aquatic life. They need it to breathe. Then there’s issues when it decays and dies. It’s also an issue for recreationists. So it’s an esthetic issue. It’s an issue for people wading, or swimming, or getting caught on their fishing line.”

For years, DEQ and local governments have worked to develop new standards to control nitrogen and phosphorous from “point pollution” sources, places with direct outfalls into the rivers like wastewater treatment plants. Now the standards are final and just need federal approval.

“Well what’s going to happen first is that we have to wait for the EPA approval process, which should take about 60-days. And then as point source discharge permits, they’re on a 5-year rotation cycle, as they come up to be renewed the variance process itself will be incorporated in their permits,” Mathieus says.

DEQ says the primary impacts of the new standards will be on Montana’s towns and cities. Individual landowners won’t be directly effected, although residents who live in towns may see some long-term costs as municipalities pay for new systems and upgrades.

“And what we’re trying to do is implement common sense and a staged approach so that we can be successful. But the beauty of the implementation process is that we’ll have little bits of success at each sequential step down.”

As DEQ works to implement the new water quality standards in the coming, additional work will also focus on how to improve the quality of lakes and reservoirs.

 

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