We need water to grow our most precious resource: Montana Families
Well Water, Where?
The 2015 Montana Legislature failed to pass legislation to allow reasonable use of an exempt well for homes, ranches and agriculture. Now this important issue will be decided by the Montana Supreme Court.
An exempt well USED TO ALLOW 35 gallons per minute and 10 acre-feet or water a year. The Montana State Water plan estimates that a home with one acre of lawn uses less than 2.5 acre-feet a year.
In 2014 a district judge made a ruling that severely limited exempt well water usage: Up to 10 acre-feet per year per 40 acres! Which means it severely limits all housing and agricultural development.
This ruling will increase costs for housing and agricultural communities.
Non-Exempt well process:
Water use permitting is dictated by law and administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The agency determines if water is physically available and if existing water users would be harmed by the proposed diversion. this includes an analysis of the effect a ground water well may have on a river or stream. Current water users may object to the permit application and the applicant WILL have to perform mitigation in order to obtain a permit. That analysis does not apply to exempt wells. RANCHERS – A well for a home and a well for stock on the same 40 acres may require applicant to go through the full permitting process.
Water for All
For Montana agriculture and business in general to continue to prosper, we need access to a few fundamental resources, chief among them water. As a headwaters state, Montana is blessed with good water supply, but we need to ensure access to that water too. It’s essential for Montana’s continued economic growth.
Rural development in particular relies on individual wells for access to stock, domestic, and small-scale irrigation. There’s a misconception out there that such individual wells are devastating water supply and bringing havoc on surface water users, particularly irrigators. That’s just not true.
Individual wells constitute approximately .05 percent of the consumptive use of available water supply statewide. The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology has expended significant resources examining groundwater supply and connection to surface water in some of the most controversial basins in Montana, including the Four Corners area of Gallatin County and the North Hills north of Helena, both areas that have seen significant growth in recent years. Overall, the good folks at Montana Tech were unable to find the huge impacts from well use predicted in anecdote. In fact, in the North Hills, well use accounted for only seven percent of groundwater withdrawals.
Water for all uses needs to be protected and made available for future development. Individual wells are part of that use, as individual wells are often the most economical and accessible source for domestic water supply for rural development. As Water Policy Interim Committee of the legislation makes plans for Montana’s water use into the future, here’s hoping policymakers keep in mind the data and govern based on good science, not emotion and scare tactics.
Grow Montana Resources
The following resources are available from the Montana Association of Realtors.
- Water Resources Evaluation Water Use in Closed Basins (View PDF – Large File)
- Impacts of exempt well rulings on agriculture (View PDF)
- (NEW) MAR/MBIA Supreme Court Opening Brief (View PDF)
- (NEW) MT 2015 State Water Plan (View PDF)
- (NEW) MT 2015 State Water Plan Executive Summary (View PDF)
- (NEW) MT Well Drillers Opening Brief (View PDF)
- Water Resource Evaluation – Key Facts (Download Word .docx)
- Evaluation of Montanas Water Resources (View PDF)
- Water Policy Interim Committee exempt well study. (View LARGE 35 MB PDF)
- Dr. Nicklin Executive Summary on water resource evaulation (View PDF)
- Dr. Nicklin Full Report Water Resource Evaluation (View LARGE 41 MB PDF)
- MSU-Billings – Impact of Community Water Systems for Bitterroot Valley Housing Developments MT Building Industry Association – 2015 Housing Stats (View PDF)
- MT Building Industry Association – 2014 Housing Stats (View PDF)
- Bitterroot Community Well Research Brief (View PDF)
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