The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is accepting public comments on a wastewater discharge permit for a water-bottling plant proposed in Creston.
The state agency released the draft permit Monday for the Montana Artesian Water Company’s proposed plant at 1085 Egan Slough Rd.
The permit, if granted, would regulate the discharge of wastewater into an unnamed tributary of the Flathead River. The draft permit includes effluent limits and monitoring requirements to protect the receiving water quality and habitat, according to the DEQ.
Lew Weaver, the owner of Montana Artesian Water Co., is seeking 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.
As proposed, the company would discharge water from the building’s temperature control system and water used to rinse bottles before being filled. Water would be drawn from an onsite, artesian, public water supply well.
The same water bottled for drinking would be used for two purposes that result in a discharge of effluent to be authorized by the proposed permit, according to the DEQ. The first would be non-contact heating water, which is an enclosed heating system. The second would be drinking water bottle rinsate, which is the water used to rinse the drinking water bottles, as a cleaning step, prior to the bottles being filled with drinking water. This rinsate water would be discharged to the receiving water via a second pipe.
According to the draft permit, the discharge flow into the receiving water body is not expected to have any adverse impacts on the geology, soil quality or stability.
The DEQ says the permit would include effluent limits, monitoring requirements and other conditions that would ensure the water quality standards were protected. The permitted outfalls will cause a slight increase in water quantity within the receiving water.
An increase in local traffic may occur with the potential to increase dust, according to the DEQ. “However, the increase particulate matter would be short-lived and not significant,” the draft permit states. “Flathead County has approved a road approach for this project.”
Seven plant species of special concern were identified by the Montana Natural Heritage Program to potentially be in the project area. This project would be located in a well-developed residential and agricultural area and it is not anticipated that any of the species of concern will be impacted by the proposed project, according to the DEQ.
Effluent limits and permit conditions will ensure water quality standards for aquatic life are protected, according to the DEQ.
Eleven animal species and seven plant species of special concern were identified by the Montana Natural Heritage Program to potentially be in the project area. The discharges to the unnamed tributary are proposed to be located approximately 1,300 feet from the confluence of the receiving water with the Flathead River, which is considered bull trout habitat at this location. Bull trout are protected as a threatened species.
The DEQ states the permit limits would protect aquatic life in the receiving water prior to its confluence with the Flathead River and would prevent impacts to bull trout.
A public hearing will be held on Monday, Aug. 1. The hearing is strictly limited to accepting and recording public comments on the draft wastewater discharge permit. DEQ officials will respond to all comments received during the public-comment period, including the public hearing, in writing at a later date. It will begin at 6 p.m. in the Creston School gymnasium at 4495 Montana Highway 35.
The deadline for submitting comments is Aug. 5.
The DEQ permit does not grant a water right. Instead, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is reviewing whether to issue a water right permit for the plant.
The DNRC in May validated dozens of formal objections from farmers, property owners and other entities over the water-bottling plant, prompting an additional layer of government review and triggering a hearing around the controversial plan.
The draft wastewater permit, fact sheet and environmental analysis can be reviewed on the DEQ website.
Comments may be submitted at the hearing or by mail to DEQ Water Protection Bureau, PO Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620-0901 or by email to DEQWPBPublicComments@mt.gov.