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Online-only opinion: Boatload of dirty water bills heading to governor's desk
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Online-only opinion: Boatload of dirty water bills heading to governor's desk

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While much ado has rightfully been made of the repeated attempts to undermine and privatize Montana’s wildlife hunting access and privileges, less attention has been paid to numerous dirty water bills working their way to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk, each of which threatens fisheries, clean water, countless jobs and businesses, and our way of life.

Recent rhetoric about cutting the proverbial government red tape is a nice soundbite, but in practice will have the opposite effect of the so-called jobs and recovery focus of this session. Dirty water bills floating their way through the Legislature not only risk the livelihood of our river-based businesses, but also Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor recreation industry and the 71,000 jobs it supports.

It’s no secret that Montana’s waterways and fisheries are under historic pressure from increased pollution to climate change to heavy use — all of which have contributed to death by a thousand cuts for some of our most cherished and valued waterways. Legislation proposed this session makes a bad situation worse.

Senate Bill 358, sponsored by Sen. John Esp of Big Timber, would repeal numeric nutrient water quality standards, and might be the most appalling dirty water legislation this session. As a technical matter, it would eliminate decades of science and rules limiting the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution most Montana waterways can receive and remain healthy, letting many of the state’s largest nutrient dischargers off the hook from doing their fair share to protect local waterways. As a practical matter, SB 358 directly threatens Montana’s economic well-being, jobs and our outdoors heritage by eroding science-based pollution control rules that protect the places and things we cherish.

When our rivers and lakes become polluted with unnatural nutrient loading, the second largest sector of Montana’s economy and waterways that attract visitors from across the world are at risk of irreparable decline. Nutrient pollution feeds noxious algal blooms that choke waterways, deplete oxygen for fish and aquatic life, and change the balance of ecosystems. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented pressure on our rivers, the last thing Montana businesses and hard working citizens need is a blow to the lifeblood of our state — our waterways.

There is a cost of doing business in Montana, but the price shouldn’t be dirty water. Repealing science-based protections that safeguard our rivers’ health is not only contrary to federal law, it also jeopardizes the exceptional quality of our blue-ribbon trout streams and countless businesses that depend on cool, clean flows. We cannot risk the health of our keynote rivers, yet SB 358 would do just that.

The things we cherish most — Montana’s spectacular rivers, our unique quality of life, and our keynote fisheries — depend directly on strong water pollution control rules. We are joining together as business owners with Upper Missouri Waterkeeper to respectfully request the governor veto SB 358. Please join us in standing up for clean water, healthy rivers, and our outdoors heritage and ask Governor Gianforte to veto SB 358.

Guy Alsentzer is executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper in Bozeman; Wade Fellin is co-owner of Big Hole Lodge in Wise River; and Lyndy Caine is owner of Firehole Ranch in West Yellowstone. 

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