State Agrees to Hear Concerns Over Water Bottling Plant

first_img Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has validated dozens of formal objections from farmers, property owners and other entities over a proposed Creston-area water-bottling plant, prompting an additional layer of government review and triggering a hearing around the controversial plan.Lew Weaver, the owner of Montana Artesian Water Co., is seeking a water right permit from the state to pump 710 acre-feet of water annually from an underground aquifer near Egan Slough along the Flathead River, the equivalent of 1.2 billion 20-ounce water bottles.Weaver’s request, and his goal to produce 140,000 water bottles per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at a facility on his farmland, drummed up considerable attention, fueling concerns among neighbors and residents across the valley.Weaver has defended his plans, saying he followed the proper regulatory steps and studied the potential environmental consequences.The DNRC issued a preliminary water right permit in January, stating that the single well could draw up to 231.5 million gallons per year from the underground aquifer. However, the agency agreed to extend the period for formal objections until April 7 after area residents, including water right holders, requested more time.The DNRC reviews new water right applications based on six sets of criteria and grants preliminary approval if the applicant meets all those requirements. Affected water users may then file objections based on the criteria.Jamie Price, a hearings assistant for the DNRC’s Water Rights Bureau, said the agency deemed about half of the roughly 75 objections it received as “valid.” Objections that failed to meet the standard were returned with a “deficiency notice,” allowing objectors to resubmit them by a May 11 deadline. The state will now compile a final list of valid objections.In ruling that the concerns are valid, DNRC agreed to consider more facts presented in the case and to hold an administrative hearing on the topic. However, it does not determine whether Weaver’s permit will be granted or denied.“In a couple weeks, after all the validity of objections is determined, the parties with valid objections will proceed to the next step, which is through the contested case process,” Price said.The formal hearing date has not been set yet.More than 30 nearby property owners represented by the same legal counsel, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Flathead Lakers, filed formal objections that were validated by the DNRC.The Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the nearby Creston Fish Hatchery, filed its formal objection on the basis that the DNRC failed to properly consider adverse impacts on the hatchery, which receives most of its water from the nearby 27-acre Jesup Mill Pond, a source that is fed by 13 artesian wells. The agency says the modeling used to estimate the impact on surrounding users is flawed, and “nowhere has consideration been given to a water balance for the aquifer,” the objection states.In addition, locals have mounted opposition to the project by organizing Water for Flathead’s Future.“As a community, we only have one chance to do this right,” Sandy Perry, organizer of Water for Flathead’s Future, stated in a press release. “We need to look before we leap, or we and future generations will suffer the consequences.”The group also expressed concern that allowing Weaver’s bottling plant to move forward could set a precedent and lead commercial entities to establish bottling plants in the area. The group called for a moratorium on commercial bottling plants.To open his plant, Weaver also must procure a draft discharge permit from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The agency expects to release a draft permit for public review next month.last_img read more