HELENA -- A new 473-page document -- including two pages just for acronyms -- explains how the Little Blackfoot River watershed is impaired and what generally can be done to improve the stream's water quality.
The document is part of the state Department of Environmental Quality's effort to establish what are known as Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs, for the Little Blackfoot River and put together a Framework Water Quality Improvement Plan.
According to the document, developing a TMDL for an impaired waterbody is a problem-solving exercise.
"The problem is excess pollutants that impairs a designated use," the document states. "The solution is developed by identifying the total acceptable pollutant load (the TMDL), identifying all the significant pollutant-contributing sources, and identifying where pollutant loading reductions should be applied to achieve the acceptable load."
Lisa Kusnierz, the project manager for DEQ, said that the Little Blackfoot is impaired by metals from old mines, which include arsenic, cyanide, lead, copper and mercury, and by sediments and nutrients due to cattle getting too near or in the creeks and agricultural runoff.
The TMDL planning area is bounded by the Continental Divide to the northeast and southeast, the Garnet Mountains to the northwest, and the Divide between Spotted Dog Creek and the Clark Fork River to the southwest.
She said DEQ isn't identifying any specific changes at this point that can improve water quality, but possibilities include cleaning up old mines and their tailings, improving vegetation along the stream to lessen sedimentation and fencing off the river from cattle.
"The documents say how much the metals or sediments or nutrients need to be reduced to meet water quality standards," Kusnierz said. "It discusses different things that can be done, but not specific details."
She added that agency officials will talk about the next steps at an open house set for 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Avon School. Agency representatives will be on hand to provide information about the document, answer questions and engage in discussions.
"We want landowners in the watershed to identify their main priorities, and then meld together what people want and what will be the most cost effective," Kusnierz said. "It's all voluntary. We'll also look at different funding sources, and DEQ will talk about options. The next goal is a watershed restoration plan."
The draft document is available on the DEQ website at deq.mt.gov. Copies also are available at the Deer Lodge Valley Conservation District and the State Library in Helena.
Public comments will be accepted until 5 p.m., Dec. 21. Comments may be mailed to Montana Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620-0901, or emailed to TMDLComments@mt.gov.