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Montana Nonpoint Source Pollution (14-MT-a)

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is the state’s single largest source of water quality impairment. NPS pollution is contaminated runoff from the land surface that can be generated by most land use activities, including agriculture, forestry, urban and suburban development, mining and others. Common NPS pollutants include sediment, nutrients, temperature fluxes, heavy metals, pesticides, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, oil and salt.

The goal of Montana’s Nonpoint Source Management Program is to protect and restore water quality from the impacts of NPS pollution in order to provide a clean and healthy environment. The NPS Program encourages voluntary pollution control activities by providing guidance and matching local project funding through the 319 grant program.


The Montana NPS program operates through the voluntary implementation of best management practices identified in science-based, community-supported watershed plans.

Nonpoint Source Pollution Process

14-MT-a.1 - Contact MDEQ for Watershed, Land Use, TMDL, and BMP Information

NPS Program Contacts


A watershed is any sloping surface that sheds water. Often, the term refers to a drainage basin or area of land that discharges its surface waters through a single outlet or stream. A large stream like the Missouri River can drain a huge land area and encompass a watershed of thousands of square miles.

The watershed approach recognizes the geographic basin as a logical organizing entity for natural resource management. Participants in watershed groups come from diverse backgrounds and hold varying perspectives and concerns. Identifying shared values and finding opportunities for agreement is central to the watershed approach.

(See Montana Watershed Coordination Council Website)

Land Use

MDEQ has identified seven major land uses that contribute significantly to NPS pollution: agriculture, forestry, hydrologic modification, mining and industry, recreation, transportation, urban and suburban development. Montana’s 2012 Water Quality Integrated Report provides the basis for identifying and addressing these sources. Each use is discussed in the 2012 Montana Nonpoint Source Management Plan.


TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load and refers to the maximum amount of a pollutant a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards (think of a TMDL as a loading rate). A TMDL can also be defined as a reduction in pollutant loading that results in meeting water quality standards.

The state of Montana monitors its waters and conducts water quality assessments to determine if waterbodies are supporting their designated uses. Waterbodies in the state of Montana have been classified to designate what beneficial uses they must support. The water quality in Montana streams typically need to be maintained suitable to support the uses of: agriculture, industrial uses, recreation, drinking water, as well as support of fish and aquatic life. Waters that are determined not to be supporting their designated uses are called impaired and are placed on Montana’s list of impaired waters. Impaired waterbodies and their associated probable causes and sources of impairment are published within Montana’s biennial Water Quality Integrated Report.

Montana’s state law, and the federal Clean Water Act that was established by Congress in 1972, require development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for all waterbodies impaired by a pollutant. Examples of pollutants include metals (e.g., arsenic, lead, copper, mercury), nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), sediment, temperature, and pathogens (E. coli).

The developer can visit the MDEQ TMDL Wiki Site for information on current TMDL projects.


Those in charge of Montana's Nonpoint Source Management Program believe its goals can be achieved through the voluntary implementation of best management practices identified in science-based, community-supported watershed plans.

See Appendix A of the 2012 Montana Nonpoint Source Management Plan for detailed BMPs.

Some BMPs that might apply to a geothermal facility include:

  • Setbacks and Zoning: Laws and ordinances limiting or prohibiting certain activities adjacent to streams, lakes, floodplains, and/or wetlands.
  • Septic System Maintenance: Regular inspection and clean out of onsite wastewater treatment systems (septic systems). Repair of leaking or otherwise malfunctioning components.
  • Storm Drain Inlet Protection: Installing grates or trash racks to catch large debris. Regular clean out of storm drain inlets. Painting or onsite posting of information regarding storm drain discharges (e.g., a stenciled label stating "Drains to fish stream").
  • Vehicle and Equipment Maintenance and Operation: Maintaining and operating vehicles and equipment in a manner that prevents leakage of fuel and lubricants. Storage and transport of fuel in suitable receptacles to prevent leakage into the environment.
  • Construction Site Stormwater Runoff Control: Silt fences, straw waddles, clean-water diversions, sediment-settling basins, road maintenance, mulching, and other practices designed to prevent water from entering or exiting a construction site.
  • Preservation of Existing Vegetation: Preserving existing riparian vegetation.
  • Settling Basins or Sediment Traps: Constructed pits, depressions, straw wattles, silt fences, or other containment devises used to trap or settle out sediment from urban runoff. These structures must be periodically cleaned out in order to maintain function.
  • Industrial Site Housekeeping: Maintaining a general cleanliness and order at industrial sites to limit the opportunity for uncontrolled offsite transport of pollutants.
  • Spill Prevention and Control Plan: Planning documents and training designed to speed up response and recovery time in the event of a hazardous material spill.
  • Wetland Restoration or Creation: Restore, re-create, or enhance wetlands to address NPS pollution.
  • Revegetation: Plant, protect, or reestablish permanent vegetative cover in riparian or upland areas to reduce NPS pollution. Practices may include, but are not limited to, seeding, sprigging, shrub planting, and fence building to protect emerging or fragile vegetation, as well as creating willow lifts and sod mats. Additional practices include over-seeding, removing non-native plants, reintroducing native plants, creating riparian buffers, and replacing annual plants with perennial vegetation.
  • Special Area Management Plan: Management plans designed to help prevent NPS pollution in sensitive or threatened landscapes or watersheds.

14-MT-a.2 - Contact Local Watershed Effort (if Applicable) for Watershed Restoration Plan (WRP)

A Watershed Restoration Plan (WRP) is a tool developed by and designed to help a watershed group plan for and implement restoration activities in their watershed. A WRP is a living document that once developed should be reviewed and reworked, if appropriate, about once every five years.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires nine minimum elements for WRPs. These elements should ensure a WRP will be as complete and thorough as possible in order to ensure successful restoration planning in a watershed.

  1. Identification of the causes and sources
  2. Load reductions expected for the management measures
  3. Description of the NPS management measures
  4. Estimate of the amounts of technical and financial assistance
  5. An information/education component
  6. Schedule for implementing the NPS management measures
  7. Description of interim, measurable milestones
  8. Set of criteria that can be used to determine whether loading reductions are being achieved over time and substantial progress
  9. Monitoring component

In Montana, the Department of Environmental Quality's Nonpoint Source Program will sometimes fund WRP's through the competitive 319 Grant process.

(See Watershed Restoration Plan Page of the NPS Wiki Site)

14-MT-a.3 - Follow DEQ Recommendations for Waste Disposal

Contact Montana DEQ for recommendations based on the individual project or refer to the guidance in the 2012 Montana Nonpoint Source Management Plan.

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Contact Information


Edit Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Water Quality Planning Bureau Chief 406.444.2680 MBostrom@mtabbazabbagov Visit Website