Montana Legislature wades into exempt-well debate

Three years ago, a Bozeman-based engineering firm sent four nearly identical letters to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation sketching out loose plans for a 41-lot subdivision proposed for a rural, predominantly agricultural landscape along the eastern shore of Canyon Ferry.

The four letters, all sent on the same day, correspond with the four phases of a subdivision proposed by one of Montana’s most politically well-connected families and largest landowners, the Galts. As explained in the letters, the 435-acre Horse Creek Hills subdivision would use exempt wells — so-named because they’re exempt from DNRC permits designed to ensure new wells won’t adversely impact other water users — to supply water to the project’s 39 homes and two businesses.

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“The attached layout currently shows four projects, however this letter is only addressing the water usage for project #1 of the 4 total projects,” the first of the four letters reads. “Each proposed project/phase will not utilize more than 10-acre feet of water — per the current DNRC [exempt-well] standards.”

That letter, and the three that followed, closed with a request that the DNRC “provide concurrence” that Horse Creek Hills’

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