Montana Interim Committee Updates – Water Policy

Water Policy Interim Committee – March 7, 2016

The Water Policy Interim Committee continued its study of the possibility for Montana to assume management of the Army Corps of Engineers 404 permitting programs. A permit is required anytime someone places dredge or fill in any jurisdictional water body.

Legislative staff prepared a preliminary estimate of the annual costs for the state to run the program.   Using several assumptions, staff projected a cost of a little over a $ 1 million per year. Again, the impetus for the study was a concern that the new EPA “Waters of the United States” rule could increase the number of 404 permits needed. That could result in delays in permit issuance that would impact such activities as highway construction projects. While implementation of the EPA rule has currently been stayed by the courts, it is still a concern.

The Committee heard from a number of presenters who shared their perspectives regarding the permitting program. Most stated they had a good working relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers, but did see areas for improvement. Several commented that the initial cost estimate seemed insufficient in terms of the need for more staff and other resources.  Committee members noted there could also be opportunities for cost savings. DEQ staff reported that it would take 4-5 years for the transition to a state program.

Staff was asked to begin drafting findings for the SJ2 study. Additional research will be needed regarding any differences in legal responsibilities between the state and federal government in terms of compliance, as well as a more in-depth look at the potential impact of the WOTUS rule if the courts decide in favor of the EPA. A draft report is expected to be discussed at the Committee’s May meeting before being distributed for public comment.