The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has extended the period for water right holders to object to a water bottling plant proposed on a slough along the Flathead River near Creston.
According to a spokesman for the state agency, the decision to extend the period by 15 days was prompted by requests from water right holders who live near the proposed facility.
Kathy Olsen, manager of DNRC’s Kalispell Regional Water Office, said the new period to file objections will begin on Wednesday, March 23, when the public notice is published, and will run through Thursday, April 7.
Objections postmarked March 12-22 will not be accepted.
The company laying plans for the plant is Montana Artesian Water Co., which was incorporated in Flathead County in 2014. Creston farmer Lew Weaver applied for a water rights permit from the state last June and received a preliminary water use permit from the DNRC in January.
The permit would allow the company to pump 710 acre-feet of water per year from the underground aquifer, the equivalent of 1.2 billion 20-ounce water bottles.
According to the DNRC’s preliminary determination to grant the permit, the company intends to use machines that are capable of rinsing and filling 20-ounce water bottles at a rate of 7,000 bottles per hour.
“Ultimately, Montana Artesian Water Company intends to use up to 20 of these machines to produce 140,000 water bottles per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” the application states.
The department found that there will be no adverse effect to existing water users due to the company’s proposed appropriations and that enough water is both physical and legally available.
Still, news of the proposal unleashed a deluge of concern from conservation groups and nearby residents who worry that the water bottling plant would diminish the amount of available water they draw from their own wells. They also expressed concern about an uptick in vehicle traffic and the potential to despoil nearby wetlands and waterbodies.
Jean Rachubka lives near the slough and said she and other neighbors banded together to oppose the bottling plant after learning of its scope last week.
“We are just putting together a grassroots thing and trying to bring some light to this, which we really feel was done under the radar,” Rachubka said. “I asked the DNRC for a 15-day extension, and every single one of us is going to file an objection, regardless of whether it will be deemed invalid.”
The objection period was slated to end on March 11, but DNRC extended the period for 15 days. Water rights holders who believe the project would have an adverse effect on their wells can download the form at the agency’s website at http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/water-rights/docs/forms/611.pdf.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is also conducting a review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act and is reviewing two separate permitting actions.
Montana Artesian Water Company has applied for permitting under the Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and is requesting a discharge permit at two outfall points, both of which would discharge into “an unnamed tributary of the Flathead River,” about 1,300 feet away from the river.
The first outfall would contain non-contact heating water, or geothermal water, and would average a discharge of 33,358 gallons per day. The second outfall would contain rinse water from plastic water bottles and would average a discharge of 2,640 gallons per day.
Although the company has not yet discharged any water, it submitted estimates of the chemicals that may be present in the effluent, including chloride, chlorine, fluoride, nitrate, nitrite, and sulfate.
A public notice package will be completed in about one month, at which point the agency will initiate and give notice for a 30-day public comment period.
“If we lose the first battle with the DNRC, the next one is with the DEQ and we are going to get up in their grill,” Rachubka said. “It’s time to put the heat on them.”
Meanwhile, a petition at change.org titled “Stop Montana Artesian Water Co. From Forming A Water Bottling Plant in Creston, MT” had gathered nearly 1,800 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
At full build-out, the company anticipates having three daily shifts of 15 employees each.