Montana Supreme Court decision voids water-use permit for Creston bottling plant

TRISTAN SCOTT Flathead Beacon

In a unanimous decision this week, the Montana Supreme Court resolved a seven-year legal dispute over a Creston-area landowner’s right to tap into a groundwater aquifer along the Flathead River and produce up to a billion bottles of water a year, upholding a lower court’s ruling that the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) erred when it granted the bitterly contested water right. The May 16 decision delivered a hard-fought victory to Water for Flathead’s Future, a neighborhood group comprising 10 residents who filed the original lawsuit as petitioners, as well as for the nonprofit conservation organization Flathead Lakers.

“In conclusion, errors of law were committed during the agency’s processing of the application, including the failure to submit all the required data, and a failure to fulfill the agency’s duty to identify and analyze all potentially affected sources,” according to the high court’s decision written by Justice Jim Rice and concurred by all six other jurists. “The errors of law and process undermine confidence in the agency’s determinations … Consequently, this combination of deficiencies leaves us with the definite and firm conviction that, upon review of the whole record … a mistake was made.”

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