State supports local watershed groups

Photo by Eleanor Guerrero

MT DEQ Water Planner

Jim Robinson

Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) Water Planner, Jim Robinson said part of the state’s job in 2013 is to support local watershed groups, statewide. Robinson appeared at the Northern Plains Resource Council annual meeting in Billings, Saturday, Nov. 16. He talked about the history of water planning in Montana. “In 1902, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was established. 1934, the State Water Conservation Board was created.” In 1942-74, the Montana State Water Plan Interim Committee report states, Montana conducted county by county water resource surveys. In 1967, the Montana Water Resources Act was passed creating the Montana Water Resources Board. From 1987-99, Robinson said, planning became issue oriented with a focus on policy development. The period from 1999 to the present, he said, is a time of supporting local watershed groups. “The most effective way to assist people with (local) water related problems is to support local watershed planning. We have the hydrogeologists,” to help. Robinson explained, “The legislature has directed the DNRC to update the Montana State Water Plan. To implement this effort, DNRC launched the Montana Water Supply Initiative (MWSI) to engage Montana citizens in developing water management strategies in each of the Montana's major river basins: Missouri, Clark Fork, and Yellowstone.” The purpose of the MWSI is to provide up-to-date water resource information to better understand existing water supplies and to estimate future water demands (including drought). The DNRC wants to actively engage citizens in developing an adaptive State Water Plan that identifies options to meet future needs, satisfies existing consumptive and non-consumptive uses, and protects the state's water resources. Robinson continued, “The goals of the MWSI are: 1) document current supply and demand for water in the Clark Fork, Yellowstone, and Missouri basins, 2) Estimate increases in demand for water over the next 20 years, 3) Identify sources of water to meet increases in demand, while protecting existing beneficial uses, 4) Provide recommendations to the 2015 Montana Legislature on options for meeting Montana's future water needs.” Citizens have input. DNRC will coordinate citizen Basin Advisory Councils (BACs) in the Clarks Fork, Yellowstone, Upper and Lower Missouri Basins. BACs will make recommendations to DNRC on planning activities in their respective basin. Also speaking was Deb Madison, Fort Peck Tribe Environment Programs Manager, based in Poplar. She spoke about oil and gas development compared to the Bakken. “It’s two minutes away to Williston, but it’s a different world.” Madison said at Fort Peck, companies must take baseline water samples before and after drilling and submit the test results. Groundwater quality is a concern around rural wells within a mile. Illegal disposals do occur: she’s heard of it happening at roadsides, in ponds, in streams, and midnight dumpings. “All withdrawals require a permit from the water resource office” for disposal. Accidents in drilling can also occur through releases, spills, lease site spills and off-site spills (covered by BLM). Toxic air emissions were serious problems at the Bakken, “These things have huge emissions.” Madison noted, “Another huge issue is solid waste disposal in North Dakota.” She said huge landfills starting at 15 acres, often adding more land or ‘cells’ later, can fill up in nine months. They are holes with liners. Developers are looking westward, to Montana, for new waste storage sites. Montana has less stringent storage laws than North Dakota (N.D.). “It’s a really big deal.” Later, CCN and Madison briefly discussed “socks.” Socks filter out solids from fracking waste fluids often containing high amounts of radioactive waste. She knows of none dumped inappropriately at Fort Peck but that is not the case elsewhere. According to Jeff McMahon (Forbes Magazine, July 24), socks have been turning up in roadside ditches, garbage cans and hidden under legal waste in North Dakota going to landfills. He attributed sock dumping to the fact that no site in North Dakota will accept this level of radioactivity. McMahon found risks to workers from radon gas released in drilling and from radioactive waste. He said public risk was demonstrated by an N.D. brochure listing few safe disposal options. Madison said the Tribe looks to the EPA first and also develops state/tribal cooperative agreements. Flooding was a concern she said, displaying a photo of broken pipes and a destroyed drill.