Water Policy Interim Committee

Water Policy Committee Praises Proposed Water Quality Variances

Committee: Water Policy Interim Committee
Author: Jason Mohr
Posted on January 24, 2018

Image of winter stream in Glacier National Park

At its Jan 8-9 meeting, members of the Water Policy Interim Committee backed proposed permit variances from certain water pollution permits while continuing to object to a proposed administrative rule related to exempt groundwater wells.

To meet the provisions of Senate Bill 325 (2015), the Board of Environmental Review is considering a variance process for those seeking to discharge into water with legacy pollution. For example, Silver Bow Creek near Butte contains high levels of copper from historical mining. A variance would allow a permittee to discharge water at a level more consistent than the receiving water — instead of following standards that may be more stringent.

At the January meeting, the committee unanimously agreed to support the rule, and it encouraged the Department of Environmental Quality to draft further rules to relieve permittees from needing to treat water cleaner than “natural conditions.”

The committee, however, continued its objection to a Department of Natural Resources and Conservation rule to limit the use of exempt groundwater wells. The new rule — which has been and will continue to be state policy due to a 2016 Supreme Court ruling — requires all lots in a newly created subdivision to share in an exemption. Under old DNRC rules tossed by the court, each newly created lot could drill its own well exempt from water right permitting as long it did not pump more than 35 gallons a minute and use more than 10 acre-feet a year.

Also at the January meeting:

  • The DNRC described how the agency is exploring options to increase water storage, ranging from raising the Fresno Dam by 5 inches to attempting natural storage, such as slowing down runoff or increasing aquifer recharge.
  • The DNRC related how a study of water availability and water management on the Missouri River will help create adaptive strategies for the future.
  • A DNRC expert explained how the timing of precipitation may have been an important factor in last year’s “flash drought” — and that, in the future, when precipitation falls may be nearly as important as the level of mountain snowpack.

Next Meeting

he committee meets again on March 5, 2018. For more information on the committee’s activities and upcoming meeting, including a full agenda, please visit the committee’s website or contact Jason Mohr, committee staff.
WPIC is led by Sen. Pat Connell (R-Hamilton), presiding officer, and Rep. Zach Brown (D-Bozeman), vice presiding officer. Other members are Sens. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena), Jon Sesso (D-Butte), and Jeffrey Welborn (R-Dillon); and Reps. Bob Brown (R-Thompson Falls), John Fleming (D-St. Ignatius), and Carl Glimm (R-Kila).

Committee Website:  www.leg.mt.gov/water
Committee Staff:  jasonmohr@mt.gov or 406-444-1640