by Nathan Boddy
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has recognized the City of Hamilton for its efforts to protect water quality. The award was given to the City during the 2022 Stormwater Convention in Missoula, along with a small group of municipalities that, “maintain a high standard being a professional, place value in collaboration and coordination, emphasize customer service and work hard to protect water quality,” according to the DEQ.
Donny Ramer, Public Works Director, said that the award was the result of the efforts of Dana Baughman, who took over as the lead wastewater operator last year. “Dana noticed some potential changes in how we coordinate with the Department of Environmental Quality,” explains Ramer, adding that the changes allowed the city to, “(be) more proactive in addressing things before they become a problem.”
The Department of Environmental Quality is tasked with enforcing the Clean Water Act, and does so, in part, by requiring municipalities like the City of Hamilton to hold discharge permits for the treated wastewater that flows back into the Bitterroot River. In the case of Hamilton, it is required to monitor both the effluent from the wastewater treatment plant and follow a stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) for the plant as well. Through the collaborative efforts of the DEQ and the employees at City of Hamilton Public Works, the city was able to develop a SWPPP, and implement it successfully this year.
When the DEQ made its annual inspections of the city’s plan and monitoring efforts, Ramer says that it “went very smoothly.” He added that it was very nice to see, since, “a lot of times the relationship between the regulator and the municipalities can be contentious.”
While their efforts at compliance have gained Hamilton Public Works some positive notice, those are not their only steps toward improving the water quality in the Bitterroot River. Ramer also points out that the City was able to secure a $1.7 million America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant, and will be using the money to replace aging infrastructure within the wastewater treatment plant itself.
The wastewater treatment plant, located at the west end of New York Avenue in Hamilton, was constructed in the early 1980s and still contains some of the original equipment. New sensors, and eventually new pumps, will allow the city to coordinate its discharges for optimized levels of all the parameters they currently monitor, such as PH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Ultimately, all of these efforts are for the single purpose of keeping unwanted nutrients at a minimum as flows go back to the river. As Ramer points out, protection of the water quality in the Bitterroot River is about a healthy fishery, quality of life, and the economy of the Bitterroot Valley.