State grants permit to water-bottling plant

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In this 2016 photo, Lew Weaver of Montana Artesian holds a map of the water in the valley at the Applied Water Consulting office in Kalispell. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake file photo)

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has granted the Montana Artesian Water Company a water-use permit to withdraw 710 acre-feet of water per year for its Creston bottling facility.

The firm’s request to withdraw this much water was the subject of a heated three-day hearing in September 2017, during which many Creston residents cried foul at Montana Artesian founder Lew Weaver’s plans.

Their objections included the absence of several key pieces of information from the form Weaver had submitted as part of his permit application; the fact that hydrologist Shlomo Neuman stated that the state agency had misused his mathematical formula in modeling the aquifer; that many residents feared an “adverse effect” on their wells and farms if Weaver received the permit.

But ultimately, the department’s examiner, David Vogler, ruled these arguments failed to meet “objectors’ burden to show that the proposal to grant the permit was improperly issued,” and granted the permit as requested.

Montana Artesian consultant Darryl James said he was “obviously pleased” with the department’s decision. “There was indeed no adverse effect on any other water user in the valley,” he told the Daily Inter Lake.

The water-use permit allows Montana Artesian to take about 450 gallons per minute. However, a water-discharge permit granted by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality only allows it to release 100 gallons of wastewater per minute. In effect, this limits Montana Artesian to taking 25-30 gallons per minute from its well until it gains permission to discharge more water.

James said Weaver plans to complete his production line sometime in February. The permit application had anticipated full build-out of the project within 20 years, but James said that production volume “completely depends on the market at this point.”

Montana Artesian’s opponents, organized as Water for Flathead’s Future, aren’t backing down. The group’s chair, Deirdre Coit, said “we are meeting with our attorneys and will challenge this in District Court.”

“This is a terrible decision, and if not stopped, will ruin the most scenic farmland with the richest soil in all of Montana,” she said, adding that the appeal would have to happen “as soon as possible.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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