June 20 Meeting to Discuss Exempt Water Wells

By Beacon Staff

At a June 20 Kalispell meeting, the Montana Legislature Water Policy Interim Committee will seek comment on multiple bill drafts that deal with exempt water wells.

When a water well pumps at a rate of less than 35 gallons per minute and produces less than 10 acre feet of water per year, it does not require a permit prior to drilling. Exempt wells are not subject to a water-use permitting analysis administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

There are about 113,000 exempt wells in Montana. Roughly 56,000 exempt wells have been drilled since the current law took effect in 1991.

In 2011, the Legislature required the Water Policy Interim Committee to study exempt wells and provide a report to the 2013 Legislature “that provides clear policy direction and necessary legislation to guide Montana’s policy” on the wells, according to committee documents.

The study set out to explore options to provide accurate measurement of exempt well water use; examine ways to ensure exempt wells don’t exceed allowed limits or affect other uses; analyze how water appropriated by exempt wells may affect surface water appropriations; summarize beneficial uses of water from exempt wells; and explore a number of other issues regarding the wells.

One of the bill proposals establishes that by law water used by exempt wells in counties of a certain size within closed basins must be offset with mitigation water. Two other proposals deal with requirements for subdivisions, and another proposes lowering the exemption limit for wells drilled in closed basins in unconfined aquifers.

The Kalispell meeting will be held at the Red Lion Hotel at 7 p.m. on June 20. The public can also comment at a meeting in Bozeman on June 19 at 7 p.m. and a meeting in Hamilton at 7 p.m. on June 21. Later meetings will be held at the state capitol July 12-13 and Sept. 10-11.

For more information on exempt wells and the committee’s study, log on to leg.mt.gov/content/Publications/Environmental/2012-wpic-brochure.pdf. To see meeting agendas or for more information on the interim committee, visit http://leg.mt.gov/css/committees/interim/2011-2012/Water-Policy/default.asp.

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