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Dozens of miles of Montana’s Gallatin River declared 'pollution impaired'

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Mark Moran

(Big Sky Connection) Montana environmental officials have listed dozens of miles of the Gallatin River as "impaired" following pollution-induced algal blooms over the last few years, and they've proposed a cleanup strategy to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

A polluted river is never a good thing, but Montana conservation groups have found a bright spot. 

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Founder of Bozeman-based Upper Missouri Waterkeeper Guy Alsentzer said while the term 'impaired' sounds pretty nasty, it means officials will find out what those pollutants are and where they're coming from - allowing advocates to draft a targeted cleanup response.

"Best available science in Montana and throughout the country is showing that nutrient pollution," said Alsentzer, "waste coming from wastewater discharges, stormwater runoff, fertilization - cumulatively, when discharged into sensitive headwater regions like the Gallatin - are usually the culprits."

The state has proposed a cleanup plan that, if approved by the EPA, will restore the health of the Gallatin from the Yellowstone National Park boundary downstream to its confluence with Spanish Creek. 

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Alsentzer added that while the Gallatin cleanup is important for environmental reasons - like river health and fish species survival - he points out that restoring this particular stretch of water is critical because of what is happening downstream, too. 

"We all recreate in the river," said Alsentzer. "Whether that's casting a fly line and trying to hook your trophy trout or whether you're going whitewater rafting, everybody deserves and has the legal right to unimpeded recreation of a clean and healthy Gallatin. And that's why we have to have a cleanup plan."

Studying the pollution and cleaning up the river is projected to take between five and six years.