DEQ approves water bottling permit

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The Montana Artesian Water Co. facility in Creston. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

The proposed water bottling plant near Creston has cleared one of two big permit hurdles with a favorable nod from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The state agency has issued a Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System wastewater discharge permit for Montana Artesian Water Co.’s drinking water bottling plant at 1085 Egan Slough Road, but will require a best management practices plan and monitoring.

The permit regulates the discharge of wastewater into an unnamed tributary of the Flathead River and includes effluent limits and monitoring requirements to protect water quality.

Under the permit, the company will be allowed to discharge water from two locations, one for the building’s temperature-control system and the other for the water used to rinse bottles prior to being filled. The permit includes effluent limits for parameters such as total suspended solids and pH. It also includes effluent monitoring requirements for additional parameters including flow and temperature.

DEQ Water Division Administrator Tim Davis said the purpose of the permit is to ensure that Montana’s surface waters are protected.

It’s been more than a year since the agency held a public hearing and opened a public comment period last August. The agency received comments from more than 250 people.

Davis said the agency considered and responded to all substantive comments received during the public comment period.

Based on the public input, DEQ added monitoring requirements and will require the water company to develop and implement a best management practices plan.

Lew Weaver, the property owner and permit applicant, said in a press release Tuesday he’s “pleased that DEQ has validated our assertion that this plant will have no adverse effect on human health or the environment, and that fears of high volumes of truck traffic, noise and diminished property values are misplaced” with the production level proposed.

Montana Artesian Water Co. requested a permit to discharge a maximum of about 65 gallons per minute. The majority of that discharge — about 60 gallons per minute — would be seasonal in nature and associated with the operation of a geothermal heating unit to be added in the bottling facility in the future, Weaver said. The production line already on site contains a bottle-rinsing unit that will discharge a little under five gallons per minute at full operating capacity. A discharge limited at that level correlates to a bottling limit of about 25 gallons per minute, or about 7,000 20-ounce bottles per hour, he said.

A second permit needed for the bottling plant also may be moving closer to resolution. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will hold a hearing for Montana Artesian Water Company’s water-rights permit on Sept. 19 in Kalispell.

The hearing will start at 9 a.m. in Room 139 of the Arts and Technology Building at Flathead Valley Community College. It was scheduled to be held in May but was rescheduled to September.

An administrative hearing is not a public meeting, the DNRC advised in its hearing notification.

“The hearing is an adversary proceeding having opposing sides, much like a district court trial,” the advisory said. “You must be a party in order to participate in a contested case hearing. A person who wished to participate in this hearing was required to file a valid objection to this application by April 7, 2016.”

However, the public is allowed to listen to the proceedings.

The Montana DNRC issued a preliminary water-rights permit in January 2016 , which stated that the single well could draw up to 231.5 million gallons per year from the underground aquifer.

On Tuesday, opponents of the water bottling plant packed the Flathead County commissioner chambers to make a final plea for the commissioners to reverse their decision rejecting the proposed expansion of the Egan Slough Zoning District boundaries to include the plant site.

Late last year the commissioners denied a petition to add 530 acres to the Egan Slough Zoning District, a tract of 1,150 acres of largely agricultural land near Creston. Egan Slough neighbors sued the county, asking the court to declare the commissioners’ decision unlawful and an abuse of discretion. The litigation is still pending.

A citizens group called Yes! For Farms and Water successfully conducted a petition drive to create a ballot issue for the Egan Slough Zoning District expansion, collecting 12,455 valid signatures in less than 60 days. The goal of expanding the district is to include the bottling plant acreage and thereby stop the project.

A request by Amy Waller to set the election for the Nov. 7 municipal election was shut down by the commissioners, who refused to act on the request.

Waller, who lives near the proposed bottling plant, then sought intervention from Flathead District Court to set a Nov. 7 ballot issue. After the District Court denied the request, the Montana Supreme Court was asked to weigh in, and also denied the request. That means the earliest a public vote can be taken on the issue is the June 2018 primary election.

Among those who commented Tuesday during the commissioners’ 15-minute public comment period was Tracey Pixley, who reminded the commissioners “we have done everything through the legal processes that we as citizens of Montana have been given to protect ourselves and our property from harm and devastation.”

Carol Sugarman spoke passionately about how she had collected hundreds of signatures to have the zoning district expansion put to a public vote.

“The people are speaking out — this is not OK,” Sugarman said. “You’re here for the people; that’s your job.”

David Eckner, another opponent of the bottling plant, told the commissioners that citizens “have the right to know why you’ve chosen to support this damaging venture against the people’s will.

“It’s clear the people of this valley are against the theft of our water,” Eckner said.

The commissioners took no action on Tuesday following the public comments.

The Montana DEQ’s final permit, final environmental assessment and the response to comment document summarizing all substantive comments received and any changes made in response to these comments can be found at http://deq.mt.gov/Water/WPB/mpdes/majorpermits

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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