Large Permit for ‘Small Operation’

The Montana Artesian Water Company's permit asks for an amount that would make it one of the largest water bottling plants in the U.S.

By Joe Brenneman

A Creston-area landowner proposes a water bottling plant with the potential permitted capacity of about 3,600 pint bottles of water per hour, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Those of us who have had the great good fortune to grow up in the Creston area have always been aware of the amazing supply of water underground, which frequently surfaces in the form of either artisan wells or year round flowing springs. We’ve used this crystal clear cold water for livestock, irrigation and other domestic purposes. One of the farms I rent has such a spring. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot August day, after dealing with grain dust and unrelenting heat, than a visit to the watering trough for a quick, bracing splash, and a long thirst-quenching drink. Although my enjoyment was greatly tempered on my last such rejuvenation when, on the way back past the spring containment structure, I noticed several dead mice floating in the water supply.

There is a metaphorical dead mouse tainting the proposed plans of Montana Artesian Water Company. The owner of the company claims the water bottling plant plans to bottle only about 240 bottles per minute, a relatively small operation. However, the permit asks for an amount that would make it one of the largest water bottling plants in the U.S. That difference is a multi-million-dollar benefit to the landowner when he sells the fully permitted operation to an out-of-state corporation with the ability to operate the plant at complete permitted capacity.

Some farmers in the Flathead Valley use a lot of water for a few months every year. However, there is no comparison to a water bottling plant, and it has nothing to do with the amount of water used. Farmers use sunshine, seed, and nutrients, to create a crop; what economists call “new money.” A multiplying factor of seven for each dollar of crop sold is commonly accepted as an accurate figure. By the time we pay for fertilizer, seed, other crop inputs, repairs and equipment purchases our dollars are in play throughout the valley. Contrast that with an operation that takes our water, for free of all things, bottles it using a few employees and ships the water out of the valley.

Not too long ago I was talking to a man who farmed in that immediate area for many, many years and has since retired. I jokingly chided him for missing out on such a wonderful opportunity. To my surprise, he said, “You know, some of us talked about doing something like that many years ago.” 

“Why did you not leap at the chance to create your own golden-egg-laying goose?” I asked.

“We decided it wasn’t the right thing to do,” he replied.

What a novel idea, basing your actions on the right thing to do.

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