Bitterroot River
File photo

Water is the lifeblood of Montana’s economy, supporting everything from agriculture and outdoor recreation to craft breweries. Plus, Montana’s rivers and streams attract millions of visitors each year who spend hundreds of millions at restaurants, hotels, gas stations, retail stores and markets.

So, as business owners who have benefited so much from our waterways, we have to ask: Why weaken environmental protections for something so vital to our economy?

Unfortunately, the Trump administration wants to do just that by repealing the Clean Water Rule (CWR). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the CWR in 2015 to clarify the environmental protections of headwater streams, wetlands and drinking water sources covered by the Clean Water Act. Before CWR, such protections were in question, and complying with them was confusing. CWR provided clarity for industry without getting in the way of family ranches and farms. It also safeguarded drinking water sources and millions acres of wetlands. It sure looked like a win-win to us.

This ill-advised move is made worse by the administration’s plan to drastically slash EPA’s budget, which would cripple Superfund cleanup in Montana just as its benefits are starting to add up. Over $1 billion has been spent to date to clean up our damaged waterways. Much of that money was awarded to local contractors, directly benefiting local economies, cleaner, healthier rivers — and the jobs they attract.

From 2000 to 2015, Montana added 100,000-plus new jobs, with average wages increasing at more than twice the national average. Most of this growth (85 percent) was fueled by industries like health care, outdoor recreation, real estate, and professional and technical services. Tech companies know a good thing when they see it — why don’t our leaders?

Montanans know the result of lax water protections: 150 years of poisoned rivers and toxic floodplains. Now that we’re cleaning it up, we’re starting to reap the benefits. This is no time to retreat.

Clean water is just plain good business for Montana. Join us in telling the administration and our congressional delegation to protect clean water laws and cleanup dollars — and keep Montana’s lifeblood healthy and safe.

This opinion is signed by Todd Frank of The TrailHead; Jon Clarenbach of Western Cider; Dave Bosler of LB Snow; Susan Byrer of Le Petit Outre; David Dillon of Green Hanger; Matt McQuilkin and Jim Chapman of Black Coffee; Evan Tipton of TOMIS; Morgan Hollis of Boom Swagger; and Mike Johnston of Montana River Guides, 10,000 Waves Raft and Kayak Adventures and Whitewater Rescue Institute. 

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