FAQ | Water for Flathead's Future
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FAQ

What is Water for Flathead's Future?

Water for Flathead’s Future is a grassroots organization that arose in opposition to the proposed operation of a major water bottling plant in our midst.  We are an organization that has representation of multiple age groups, genders, political affiliations, as well as professions and trades. We provide community education and resources for further understanding the negative impacts of water bottling on our environment, social cohesion, as well as our economy.  We are spearheading the major community-based legal opposition to the bottling plant’s water and wastewater permits (US Fish and Wildlife Services are also actively opposing the granting of the water permit, as are several individual objectors who represent themselves in the matter.)

What is the Mission Statement of Water for Flathead's Future?

Water for Flathead’s Future is a grass roots organization that advocates sustainable use of our surface and underground water resources to assure that the needs of the people, fish and wildlife of the Flathead Valley of Montana can be met now and for generations to come.

How is Water for Flathead's Future funded?

Water for Flathead’s Future is solely funded through public donations.  We are a Montana State non-profit corporation but we have not yet been recognized as a federal tax-exempt 501(c)3 corporation.  However, tax-deductible donations can be made by making a check out to and mailing it to:

    • Citizens for a Better Flathead
    • PO Box 771
    • Kalispell  MT   59901

and including the notation in the Memo Field of the check: For WFF.

Citizens for a Better Flathead will then provide you with a receipt suitable for tax purposes (make sure your address is legible on the check).

Otherwise, all donations made directly via our PayPal account (see the bottom of the page) or mailed directly to:

    • WFF
    • PO Box 10518
    • Kalispell  MT   59904

are not considered tax-deductible at this time.

What is the Montana Artesian Water Company (MAWC)?

The Montana Artesian Company (MAWC) is a company incorporated in the State of Montana in 2014 for the purpose of bottling and selling water.  It is located at 405 Pederson Rd outside of Creston, MT.

What permits does MAWC require?

There are 2 primary permits that are required for MAWC to begin operations.  The first permit is granted by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), and the second is from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

What are the permits for?

The permit that is granted by the DNRC is a water allocation permit.  It would allow MAWC to extract the water out of the ground and bottle it for sale.  The other permit, from the DEQ, would allow MAWC to discharge its pollutants into the Flathead river.

How much water is MAWC requesting?

From the MAWC’s application to the DNRC application, MAWC is requesting to extract for bottling purposes 710 acre-feet of water per year.

How much water is 710 acre-feet?

A single acre-foot of water is the amount of water that it would take to cover one acre in size with 1 foot of water.  Thus, 710 acre-feet would the amount of water it would take to cover 1 acre of land with 710 feet of water.  Put another way, it would be the amount of water that would cover a football field by more than 700 feet of water.  The Statue of Liberty is about 300 feet tall so 700 feet is more than the height of two Statues of Liberty, one on top of the other.

Where does the water come from?

Underneath the Flathead Valley there are 3 semi-separate water aquifers (an aquifer is an underground area of water-bearing rock/sand/silt/clay material).  There is the shallow aquifer, which is oftentimes less than 10 or 20 feet deep.  Then there is an intermediate aquifer which extends to varying depths depending on the location in the valley.  Underneath the intermediate layer runs a layer of mostly thick clay material which does not let water through.  Underneath this layer of clay is the final aquifer, termed the ‘Deep Aquifer’.  It is a very special aquifer because it is under enormous pressure due to the geology and the runoff trying to fill it from the mountains.  MAWC’s well is likely barely in the deep aquifer in a location where the clay separating layer is thin and ‘leaky’.

What does that mean — ‘Thin and Leaky’?

Since their well is likely in an area that does not have a thick clay barrier between the deep aquifer and the intermediate aquifer above it, when they pump water out of the deep aquifer it will result in water loss from the intermediate aquifer and the shallow aquifer.  Thus, not all the water will be extracted just from the deep aquifer.  That means they will be pulling water from the aquifers that supply most of the water for surrounding residences as well as the water source for much of the surface water features such as the Many Lakes region.  Our studies show that MAWC’s operations will, in fact, have a negative draw-down affect on the Many Lakes as well as the local artesian springs feeding the area.   Thus, we can expect to see Many Lakes and other surface water features be depleted of water, except for perhaps spring runoff periods, and local artesian springs and rivers to be reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

I have read that MAWC’s owner does not intend to expand beyond a small, local operation

It has to be clear that if MAWC is permitted for 710 acre-feet per year then there is nothing to prevent them from expanding to that size, upsetting the existing social and cultural mores of the entire Flathead Valley.  The extensive negative effects resulting from this bottling plant should not rest on the whims of a single business owner.  Moreover, the permit remains with the property in any change of hands.  Thus, it is very feasible that the owner could sell his property and permit to a VERY large bottling company (think Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc.) who would be more than willing to expand to full capacity.  In fact, we have seen documented evidence that MAWC’s owner has already contacted national water bottling companies seeking their interest in his permit/operation. Clearly what MAWC presents to the public is not the same as MAWC’s private intentions.

How much pollution would be discharged into the Flathead River?

That is impossible to tell.  The water that was submitted to the laboratory for evaluation of pollutant discharge was submitted 3 or more months before the actual plant was constructed.  Thus, it is impossible to tell what is going to be discharged because the water that was submitted for analysis of pollutants did not come from the actual bottling operation, but more likely resulted from taking water straight from the water well and submitting it.

Did the DEQ evaluate the discharge into the Flathead River?

No.  The DEQ believed it was sufficient to evaluate drinking water as a representative sample of industrial discharge.  Naturally, no pollutants were discovered because the sample came from the very pristine underground water source, not a water bottling machine.

Isn’t that illegal?

We certainly think that it is, at a minimum, indicative of regulatory negligence.  We believe that if the DEQ is going to publish an assessment of the negative environmental impacts then they should at least evaluate what the pollutants discharged into the environment are, as well as investigating the environment into which the pollutants will be discharged.  Instead they analyzed common tap-water and concluded that the discharge from the machinery would contain no pollutants.

I thought the DEQ did an environmental review

The DEQ purports to have done an environmental review but it was shown to have been a muddled mess.  The DEQ chose to do the most minimal review possible, short of not doing any review at all.  The review they did was what is called a “Checklist Environmental Assessment” [click here for a copy]  where they are given 23 different areas of concern and they have to indicate whether there are any impacts in the given areas.  The DEQ filled in the 23 boxes without performing even the most rudimentary analysis. They did not review the area of impact, they did not consult with experts on the impacts of the plant’s operation, nor did they request any public input into the review.  Only after they had completed their cursory assessment did they invite the public to comment.  The public overwhelmingly rejected their assessment at a public comment hearing on 8/1/16 — nothing has been heard of since from the DEQ on this matter.

What other categories were included in the Checklist Environmental Assessment?

There were, in total, 23 different areas of concern.  You can see the completed DEQ Checklist EA here and the completed DNRC Checklist EA here.

What affect would a water bottling plant as proposed have on property values?

A study was completed in 2016 to assess the affect on property values.  The results were that property values could expect to decline up to 45%, seriously affecting property owners’ net worth since much of a family’s financial security is bound up in their home and property.

How many trucks would this plant send out onto our roads?

The number of trucks trafficked on our county gravel roads and paved highways is dependent on the size of the operation.  Returning to the application submitted to the DNRC, the applicant requested enough water to bottle upwards of 230 Million gallons of water per year.  This would result in over 100 semi-trucks traveling in for loading and another 100 semi-trucks traveling out for distribution — per day.  These would be independent owner-operators which means they would most likely be paid by run.  Thus, these semi-trucks would choose the route which minimizes their expenditure of gas, not to insure the safety of our children going to and from school on bicycles and on foot. Nor will they care how many or how often they drive through Big Fork, Lakeside, Whitefish, or Polson.  What is for sure is that those numbers will add to the summer congestion of traffic around the lake and will tear up the roads even more in the spring and fall.

Won’t those trucks mean a lot of dust on our county roads?

Yes.  We had a study commissioned by an environmental group out of Bozeman, MT.   They calculated that approximately 220 pounds of dust would be kicked up by those semis per day.  And, did you know that the Kalispell area is still listed by the US EPA as being in the ‘non-attainment’ category for it’s dust-born remediation (it has not attained full-compliance with its remediation program).  This area was first listed in 1987 and still the County and the State governments are allowing increasing amounts of dust to pollute our air and infect our lungs, exacerbating the asthma of the young and old as well as causing untold amount of crop damage and residential nuisance dust.

How many bottles of water do they want to fill?

MAWC’s application requests enough water to fill 144,000 20-oz. bottles per hour, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.  That translates into over 1.25 Billion bottles of water per year, enough if laid top to bottom to circle the globe over 6 times.

How are the bottles made?

The bottles begin their life at the plant as a small plug of plastic.  It is heated to a temperature which softens the plastics.  It is then put into a mold and hot air is injected which causes the plastic plug to take on the shape of the bottle.  The bottle is then moved to a rinsing machine which rinses the hot plastic bottle with water and flushes the water out into the Flathead river.  This rinse water is used to remove any remaining particulates and residues, as well as to dissolve and flush out any toxic off-gasses that might remain.  This is the pollutant discharge water that the DEQ did not want to evaluate to determine environmental impacts.

How is water bottling different than agricultural use of water?

Agricultural use of water serves the community by enriching and nourishing the soil.  Most of the agricultural water is returned to the soil and the plants, which cause the plants to grow which causes the capture of more moisture in the early hours of the day.  The farmer irrigates his crops to produce a product that, when shipped out in the form of grain or barley or alfalfa, leaves the majority of the water extracted in the local soils or it becomes part of the natural water cycle we all depend on for life.  When a bottler extracts water and ships it out in semi-loads of plastic bottles that water is removed from the Flathead in its entirety.  And when it is shipped out of state it is removed from the State entirely.  There is no comparison between the community, social benefit of agricultural irrigation and the wholesale transport of water out of the Flathead valley.

Isn’t this really just a NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) issue?

Unfortunately — no.  The Flathead Valley remains over 80% un-zoned which means that almost anywhere in the Flathead is available for water exploitation.  This current bottling plant is just the first to make it this far.  There are already other wells drilled and their owners are merely waiting to see how this plays out.  Flathead Valley needs to get ahead of this issue because once the plants arrive they will not be easy to remove — their deleterious social and environmental affects will pervade the entirety of the valley through the degradation of infrastructure, the socialization of the costs of repair and maintenance, the increased traffic and noise elbowing out the tourist population, and the increased friction between citizens and the government agents that stood by silently while the citizen’s tranquility was stolen away.

Stand your ground and let your voice be heard.