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By Laura Lundquist, Courthouse News Service

HELENA, Mont. (CN) — After leading the nation in setting effective water standards for nitrogen and phosphorus, the state of Montana is being forced to backpedal due to state legislation. But since the federal government also has a say in water quality, Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality finds itself stuck in a power struggle.

This week, a group of Montana environmental organizations sent a letter to Montana Department of Environmental Quality asking the department to follow federal Clean Water Act requirements by officially informing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of changes to its policy regulating nutrients in state waters.

“Why are we asking for a formal submission? Because somewhere, something’s happening that’s disingenuous,” said Guy Alsentzer of Montana-based Upper Missouri River Waterkeeper, one of the groups that signed the letter.

Nutrients — chemical compounds of nitrogen and phosphorus and key ingredients in commercial fertilizers — are increasingly in the news as they pollute the nation’s waters, causing algae mats to invade river channels and choke aquatic environments of oxygen. From the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, water is increasingly degraded and sometimes toxic, affecting fish and people alike. In Florida waters, nutrient-fed algae are choking out native seagrass, causing hundreds of endangered manatees to die of starvation.

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