HELENA – Environmental groups are challenging the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for permitting wastewater disposal into the groundwater for a new development in Big Sky that they say could degrade water quality in the Gallatin River downstream from Yellowstone National Park.
The Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and Montana Environmental Information Center filed Friday a complaint in Gallatin County court over the department’s May decision to approve a groundwater pollution permit for a septic system owned by Lazy J South, a residential and commercial development less than half a mile from the Gallatin River.
The groups say that the permit could lead to increased algal blooms in the river, which is already suffering from unprecedented noxious algal blooms downstream from Big Sky. Such blooms could harm recreational activities on the river, including trout fishing and whitewater rafting, according to the court filing.
“The Montana DEQ is asleep at the switch when it comes to protecting our water from irresponsible subdivisions and poorly planned development,” Derf Johnson, staff attorney with the Montana Environmental Quality Information Center said in a statement.
Johnson said the permit is emblematic of a statewide problem where DEQ is “purposely ignoring the best science and common sense on water quality and cumulative impacts so that it can continue to issue permits.”
A spokesperson for DEQ said the department does not comment on ongoing legal matters.
Lazy J South’s septic permit could represent an increase of almost 20% of the existing cumulative septic discharges to local water sources, according to court filings. And groundwater samplings by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology have shown pollution concentrations have already increased as much as 10-fold in the past decade.
The environmental groups are accusing the state agency of failing to comply with its mandatory duty under the Montana Water Quality Act to consider whether sewage from the new subdivision will contribute to the environmental degradation of the river. They are asking the court to void the permit and require the department to perform additional analysis.
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