Montana's Bitterroot River gets EPA oversight

Bitterroot River receives EPA approval for protection plan

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Montana's Bitterroot River flows through some of Montana's fastest-growing development. 

And to help it stay clean and pristine, a plan to protect the Bitterroot River from future damage has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Bitterroot River Nutrient Protection Plan, written by the Department of Environmental Quality with support from local stakeholders, received final acceptance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is the first protection plan of its kind in the EPA’s mountains and plains region — even though the Bitterroot River has no documented human damage.

The Nutrient Protection Plan is a nonregulatory document that demonstrates the high-quality nutrient condition of the Bitterroot River, describes sources of nutrients, presents population growth scenarios and provides recommendations for preventing nutrient impairment. The Bitterroot watershed encompasses Ravalli County and the southern portion of Missoula County.
Lindsey Krywaruchka, the Montana DEQ’s water quality division administrator, said the plan is not only the first in Montana, but also the region, and it provides recommendations for community members to help maintain water quality in a watershed that represents what makes Montana special.
The Bitterroot River is not currently impaired by nutrients, making it unique in Montana for a river of its size in a rapidly developing watershed. 

The watershed was considered a focus watershed in 2019, when DEQ targeted funding and technical resources for voluntary water quality improvement projects for three years. The protection plan is one of many technical resources provided to local stakeholders and residents to help maintain or improve the watershed, the DEQ said.
Human activities can result in excess nutrients that pose a threat to human health and the environment, including proliferation of nuisance or toxic algal growth, according to the DEQ.

Nonpoint sources of nitrogen pollution are the primary threat to maintaining the Bitterroot River's high-quality nutrient condition, the DEQ said. Nonpoint sources of pollution include road and streambank erosion, fertilizers from croplands and lawns, and human and animal waste. 

The Nutrient Protection Plan recommends voluntary management practices for reducing nutrient pollution. Restoring and protecting native streamside vegetation is an example of a best practice that protects the Bitterroot from pollution, the DEQ said. Another important example is managing existing and new septic systems, and the DEQ said that the plan recommends that existing homes and new construction connect to municipal systems where possible.

To read the Bitterroot River Nutrient Protection Plan, visit:

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