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Big Sky Connection - Republicans in Congress want to roll back a rule that protects waterways, including in Montana. The rule, known as the Waters of the United States, was restored under the Biden administration after being gutted under the Trump administration. Comments from Guy Alsentzer (ALL-sent-zer), executive director, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper; and David Brooks, executive director, Montana Trout Unlimited.

Click on the image above for the audio. Many streams in Montana are seasonal, which can make them difficult to protect. (Robert Paulus/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

February 10, 2023 - Republicans in Congress are calling for a repeal of Clean Water Act protections for waterways across the country, which could have a big impact on Montana.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., are challenging the Waters of the United States rule, which was restored under the Biden administration after being stripped of its protections during the Trump administration.

Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, said the restored rule includes protections for ephemeral or intermittent streams, which is how more than half of Montana's waterways are classified.

"We know scientifically, when we degrade all those upstream capillaries and arteries of our river systems, those are in fact what provides cool, clean water consistently to the main-stem rivers that we all know, love and enjoy," Alsentzer stated.

Republicans argued the expanded rule creates burdensome red tape for farmers and infrastructure projects. A hearing on the rule change took place this week in Washington, D.C.

David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, said the rule provides crucial protections for the headwaters of major river systems originating in Montana, including the Missouri River.

"It also, and I think equally important, maintains the exemptions for permitting -- 404 permits -- for routine, ongoing farming and ranching activities that have been of great concern in many communities," Brooks emphasized. "Those are protected in this latest revision."

Alsentzer pointed out clean water is good for the economy.

"If we don't protect things upfront, and we don't meaningfully condition different types of activities based upon their pollution potential, we are, in fact, going to suffer economic and social repercussions," Alsentzer asserted. "We're going to have expensive treatment for drinking water supplies, we're going to lose fisheries."

He added Montana's outdoor recreation industry is a large economic driver and also depends on the state's pristine waterways.

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