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Environment & Science

Montana legislators oppose ballot initiative to add protections to Gallatin, Madison rivers

The Gallatin River Rolls Through the Montana Wilderness
Matt Anderson/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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If passed, the ballot initiative would add protections to sections of the Gallatin and Madison rivers in southwest Montana.

Legislators on a state interim committee voted this week not to grant a proposed ballot initiative their approval before it heads to the next stage of signature gathering.

If passed, the initiative would designate sections of the Madison and Gallatin rivers in the Big Sky area in southeast Montana as “Outstanding Resource Waters.” It would also prevent the state from issuing new water discharge permits along those river miles if the activity would negatively affect water quality.

Bozeman-based advocacy group Cottonwood Environmental Law Center and its executive director John Meyer petitioned to add the initiative to the ballot.

“More and more people are coming here and there is more pressure to discharge pollutants into tributaries that reach those sections that would be protected under I-191,” Meyer said at Tuesday's legislative hearing.

Petition supporters say the designation would prevent pollution and better preserve water quality. Opponents from a wide range of industries including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing worry the ballot initiative would hurt businesses in the area that apply to use the river for activities like wastewater treatment.

“We have a number of housing initiatives underway and planned that we feel would be severely impacted if this initiative were to pass,” said Laura Seyfang with affordable housing nonprofit Big Sky Community Housing Trust.

The initiative needs signatures from more than 30,000 voters to make it to the ballot.