The social whirlwind in Button Valley this weekend played havoc with my editorial responsibilities. What with Girls Class C basketball and the 4-H Spring Livestock Show both on the same weekend. Whew! It’s almost more fun than one editor can stand.
There has been some misinformation circulating about SB437, a bill that would prohibit licensing of new fish ponds using exempt groundwater wells. This is NOT a bill about stopping or closing fish ponds in Montana. It is about using water that is exempt from regulation and review. The bill would stop the use of only one water source, only exempt wells and only for NEW ponds. There is no effect on existing fish ponds.
Why are exempt groundwater wells a bad thing? Well, the current law says “…a permit is not required before appropriating ground water by means of a well or developed spring with a maximum appropriation of 35 gallons a minute or less, not to exceed 10 acre-feet a year…”. This means that small wells do not have to go through the normal permitting and environmental review process. They don’t have to show that the effects of a new well will affect the neighbor’s water rights or that the new well will not reduce surface or groundwater availability. These are small wells, less than 35 GPM. One small well is not much of a problem. The problems come when the well is in a very small watershed or when there many wells in a larger watershed. Many wells can have serious, direct impacts on streamflows and water quality. There are currently over 5,000 permitted fish ponds in the state with many more that are not permitted.
SB437 seeks only to stop the use of unregulated water from small wells in fish ponds. If the well does not go through the permitting process, there is no way to tell what impact in will have on the watershed. Applicants can still go through the regular permitting, just like they could with larger wells. They can still use surface waters for their ponds such as irrigation flows. This is a good bill and will do little if anything to stop Ted Turner from building a new fish pond at his castle. It will only assure the rest of us that he is being a good neighbor. It passed the Senate 38-12 and is now moving in the house. Please let your representatives know that you support protecting Montana’s watersheds. Call 406-444-4800 to leave a message or use the Legislature Online Message Form to tell the legislature to pass this bill.