A resort development the size and scale of the proposed Bitterroot Resort requires a great deal of water. The resort village (Carlton) will require water for homes, lodges, condos and businesses, as well as for the proposed golf course and ice rink. In addition, due to the low annual snowpack, the lower elevations of the proposed ski area will be heavily dependent on snowmaking - a process that uses a great deal of water.
OVERVIEW OF PROPOSED WATER USE
The Bitterroot Resort outlined its projected water needs and supplies in its initial plan:
"The Bitterroot River drainage is currently closed for new surface water appropriations. Water use for homes, lodges, condos, businesses and similar uses would be provided by wells and new groundwater appropriations are not affected by the closure. Snowmaking would likely require surface water rights.The private land portion of this project has associated irrigation water rights including storage in Carlton Reservoir that could provide substantial snowmaking. These rights would require a change-of-use application process through the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.The place of use for snowmaking would change from the irrigated pastures to ski runs but remain within the Carlton Creek drainage.The timing of runoff may be affected and would be analyzed during the change application process with public input. Converting the consumptive irrigation use to mostly non-consumptive snowmaking could result in higher streamflows (most irrigation water is transpired to the atmosphere while snowmaking water melts back into the surface and groundwater systems)."
"Bitterroot Resort will need snowmaking on the lower third of the mountain to assure a Thanksgiving opening. All destination resorts depend on snowmaking for a reliable winter season. Bitterroot Resort will install an automated snowmaking system, taking advantage of the advanced technology currently available in the industry."
"Water supply for domestic use will be pumped from wells on the east side of US Highway 93 in the Bitterroot Aquifer. Water will be pumped to million-gallon storage tanks above the proposed Mountain Village. The water system will provide adequate supply for domestic use and fire protection. Additional capacity can be designed into the system to extend service beyond the site."
The irrigation company is also claiming a R.S. 2477 Road Right-of-Way to access both Carlton and Little Carlton Lakes.
It is interesting to note that despite the Bitterroot Resort's unending claims to be environmentally sensitive, Maclay hired the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) to represent him in the above case. MSLF has the honor of being started by James Watt, funded by Coors, and serving as an employer of Gale Norton. It is the premier anti-conservation law firm in the country, working to find loopholes that help large corporations avoid health laws.
The following responses are provided by John Fergusen, executive director of the Montana Water Trust, in response to updated claims (3/05) made on the Resort's web site.
1. RESORT CLAIM: "We are working to develop the information necessary for detailed conversations about our plans and opportunities to enhance stream habitats."
RESPONSE: The information regarding the impacts of the proposed resort on surface and ground water as well as potential adverse impacts to other water right holders in the affected watersheds must be gathered and shared with the public as soon as possible, and before the consideration of forest service permits or water right changes proceed. Without this information, the public and agency decision-makers cannot make informed decisions.
2. RESORT CLAIM: "The ranch controls a bundle of water rights, which taken together amount to more than 4000 acre feet of water"
RESPONSE: This statement is not entirely correct. The water rights mentioned have not completed final adjudication, meaning the water court has not decided that the claimed volume, which is 4000 acre-feet, is what was historically used. Oftentimes, water right holders claim more than they historically used (for reasons such as lack of measuring devices to specifically identify how much water was in fact used before 1973 , or to try and get more water). Thus, Maclay may have the right to significantly less water, which will need to be determined by the water court and through the water change application process with the DNRC.
3. RESORT CLAIM: "We would change some of this water from summer use for irrigation to winter use for snowpack"
RESPONSE: Currently, the DNRC does not allow changing the period with which water is diverted from a creek or river, such as Lolo Creek. Meaning, if a farmer historically diverted water from the creek in the summer, but now seeks to divert in the winter, this is not currently a legal change of use. However, a water right holder can divert water in the summer and store it for use in the winter in a reservoir.
With respect to period of diversion change, it is important to make sure that the public objects to any period of diversion change. Withdrawing water in the winter months can be just as devastating to a fishery and aquatic life as in the summer, because in the winter the wetter perimeter of a creek is already significantly impacted by ice, and even the slightest withdrawal could have severe and negative impacts.
With respect to stored water, it is important to ensure that Maclay is not storing more water than which he historically used for irrigation prior to 1973. No enlargement of Maclay’s rights is authorized under the Montana Water Use Act. In addition, by changing the period of use for the "storage use" will also likely have an impact on late summer stream flows in Lolo and Carleton Creeks as discussed in the following answer.
Friends of Lolo Peak, P.O. Box 7444, Missoula, MT 59807
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