The Outstanding Resource Water (ORW) designation is the strongest protection available for any waterbody in Montana. An ORW designation prevents the Montana Department of Environmental Quality from issuing a permit to discharge pollution into the protected waterbody. The Wild & Scenic River designation is meant to prevent dams, not stop pollution. The Snake River has been designated Wild & Scenic, but the Jackson Wastewater Treatment Plant still dumps its treated wastewater into it. The Gallatin and Madison rivers deserve better.
Large conservation groups have previously sent letters to the state of Montana asking it not to protect the Gallatin as an Outstanding Resource Water because they prefer a more “collaborative” approach. Newsflash: we’re not going to protect the Gallatin and Madison from pollution by collaborating with developers. No waterbody in Montana outside of a national park has been designated an Outstanding Resource Water. Now is the time.
Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Gallatin Wildlife Association, and Montana Rivers are spearheading a Citizen Initiative that will allow Montana voters to directly decide whether to permanently protect certain reaches of the Madison and Gallatin. We’ll begin collecting the 31,000 signatures from registered Montana voters in April to get the issue on the November 2022 ballot.
John Meyer is the Executive Director and General Counsel of Cottonwood Environmental Law Center.