Frequently Asked Questions
Questions and concerns are understandable and welcomed. Following are some commonly raised:
Will the water bottling plant use surface water, shallow groundwater, or water from the deep aquifer?
The bottling plant will use a groundwater well drawing water from the deep aquifer. The well pumps from approximately 220 feet deep and draws water from a sand and gravel layer in the deep aquifer between 203 to 221 feet below the ground surface (bgs). The well was tested and has the capability to be pumped at up to 450 gallons per minute. A clay layer is present from 41 to 180 feet that separates the deep aquifer from the shallow aquifer and surface water. Montana Artesian Water’s well is sealed with a bentonite-cement grout from the surface to a depth of 55 feet bgs to preclude surficial contaminants from entering the well, as well preventing upward leakage into the shallow aquifer. Numerous levels of design and safety precautions went into constructing the well to assure well integrity.
Will the project negatively affect neighboring wells?
DNRC hydrogeologists conducted a rigorous evaluation of the aquifer pumping test data using an analytical model to determine if long-term pumping by Montana Artesian Water would have an effect on neighboring wells. The results of their modeling efforts predicted that pumping would lower the water level in some wells but not to the extent that it would have an impact on their water supply or water availability. DNRC would not have granted the water right had they believed that neighbors wells would be adversely impacted.
How much water would the bottling plant draw from the aquifer?
The initial phase water bottling operations will utilize approximately 25 to 30 gpm. As market demands dictate, the bottling plant could be enlarged and scaled up to use more water. Aquifer testing has demonstrated the safe yield of the well is 450 gpm; however, Montana Artesian Water does not believe it is feasible to bottle and ship this volume of water from this site given existing physical constraints. Beyond the infrastructure limitations, the Weavers have no personal or professional desire to build an industrial-scale facility on their property.
How does this use compare to other commercial users in the area?
With regard to agriculture, a typical quarter section center-pivot covering a 140 acre field of alfalfa has a flow rate of approximately 700 gpm and applies roughly 350 acre-feet of water during a five month irrigation season. In comparison, Montana Artesian Water is requesting a water right for 450 gpm and a volume of 715 acre-feet per annum. As shown, Montana Artesian Water would have a lower pumping rate and a higher overall annual use rate.
How much water will leave the area and how much will stay in the watershed?
Technically, none of the water in the aquifer stays in the aquifer. DNRC notes that water in the aquifer flows through the valley and naturally recharges.
Some water pumped from the deep aquifer and discharged on the surface, however, does have a chance to filter down into the shallow aquifer. The amount of water that will remain in the watershed from Montana Artesian Water’s operations is predicted to be 17 percent. In comparison, the consumptive use of a typical quarter-section center pivot ranges from 80 to 90 percent with 5 to 15 percent filtering back into the shallow aquifer before flowing down valley.
Who makes the final decision on whether to permit the project?
There are two state agencies responsible for reviewing and permitting the Montana Artesian Water’s proposed bottling plant, which include the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Water Protection Bureau. A water right application was submitted to the DRNC for water-bottling operations. The application was reviewed by the DNRC and they issued a Preliminary Determination to issue the water right in January 2016. The application then proceeded to the Public Notice stage and has received a number of objections that were deemed valid by the DNRC. As is customary, a contested case hearing has been scheduled. Based on the evidence provided, the DNRC Hearings Examiner issued a Final Order to grant the water right to Montana Artesian Water in January 2018.
Montana Artesian Water also submitted an application for a Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MPDES) permit to the DEQ Water Protection Bureau. The purpose of this permit is to discharge: 1) non-contact heating water up to 60 gpm; and 2) drinking water bottle reinstate at a rate of 5 gpm, to an unnamed tributary of the Flathead River. The DEQ Water Protection Bureau completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) and found there are no significant impacts expected from the two source discharges. The DEQ Water Protection Bureau had determined the preferred action is to issue the MPDES permit. This action is preferred because the permit program provides regulatory mechanism for protecting water quality by enforcing the terms of the MPDES permit while allowing the applicant to proceed with their intended project.
Does the public have a voice in the decision?
The public had the opportunity to provide input and comment during both the water right application and the MPDES permitting process. The typical objection period for the water right Public Notice duration is 30 days. However, the DNRC uncharacteristically extended the objection period to allow for more public input.
Similarly, the DEQ Water Protection Bureau provides a minimum 35-day public comment period prior to making a final decision to issue or not issue the MPDES permit. DEQ took several months to review the application, consider public comments, and render their decision on the permit application.
How will neighbors be assured that their wells are not irreparably harmed?
Water law in Montana states that a prior appropriator of water does not have a right to prevent changes in the conditions of water occurrence (such as an increase or decrease of streamflow or lowering of a water table, artesian pressure or water level) by later appropriators, so long as the prior appropriator can reasonably exercise their water right under the changed conditions. This may mean the prior appropriator has to drill a deeper well. That said, Montana Artesian Water has committed to slowing or halting production in the event of an adverse effect from their operations on neighboring wells.
Are there any benefits of the project to the local area?
Development of the project will ensure that the land stays in tact, that the property is producing good tax revenue and the project providing good-paying jobs for local employees.