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More Water For New Missoula Development

Gordon McLean (CC-NC-BY-2.0)

Missoula’s water company has secured enough water for a new development in Missoula.

Ross Miller, Missoula Mountain Water's chief legal officer says getting a new water rights permit is not easy. There aren’t any more permits to draw water from the Clark Fork or Bitterroot rivers.

"You can get a new groundwater permit," Miller says, "however, you have to mitigate the effects of that new permit on the river flows. What that essentially means is all the water you consumptively use with a new groundwater permit, you have to put back into the river."

Mountain Water got a groundwater permit through the Maloney Ranch, enough to provide water for the 1,500 homes planned for the Lower Miller Creek area. Miller says they had to do some legal work to make it happen.

"Fortunately the Maloney Ranch was a historically irrigated ranch with most of the water coming out of Miller Creek and some out of the Bitterroot River. So they were able to bring some of the old historical water rights with them. And so, we were able to change those old water rights with this new permit. There is no net loss in the hydrologic system."

To put the permit to use, Mountain Water drilled wells near the confluence of Missoula’s Miller Creek and the Bitterroot river. They’re permitted to pump up to 2,000 gallons per minute. New water storage is part of the plan, too.

To put the water right permit into use, wells were drilled near the confluence of Missoula's Miller Creek and the Bitterroot River. Those wells are permitted to pump up to 2,000 gallons per minute.

"There's literally miles of new pipe going in," Miller says, "and two new reservoirs. One reservoir that's 800,000 gallons and another new reservoir that's 300,000 gallons. It's something on the order of $8 million of new water infrastructure. That doesn't even include all of the smaller distribution main extensions to get to the homes."

Miller says this project has nothing to do the ongoing legal case surrounding the city of Missoula's attempt to forcibly acquire Mountain Water from the global equity firm, The Carlyle Group.

"No. No, this is being driven by just growth in Missoula and Mountain Water doing what we've always done and trying to accommodate growth," Miller says. "We don't create growth or encourage growth or discourage growth, but we have to accommodate growth with a good, reliable clean source of water.

The smaller of the two new reservoirs should be built by next year. The wellfield should be complete by 2017, but Miller cautions that really depends on lot sales.

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