I read a great article by Troy Carter of the Bozeman Chronicle, detailing the effects of the exempt well ruling on Gallatin County growth. In mid-October of last year, a county judge ruled that subdivisions pumping over 10 acre feet of water per year would need to apply for a water rights permit. Before the ruling, subdivisions could pump up to 1,000 acre-feet of water without a permit, while farmers and ranchers using the same amount needed a permit.
The article details how the well ruling has affected development in Gallatin County since its inception. Many people have been worried it will affect growth in the area. So far, it has been difficult to tell whether the ruling will affect subdivision growth moving forward.
According to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Water Resources Division, nearly 100 subdivisions have applied for approval since the ruling. If a subdivision stays under 10 acre-feet of water per year, then no further action is needed to drill. According to the DRNC, a vast majority of subdivisions have stayed under this threshold. From this perspective, it appears the ruling has done little to curb growth.
However, other evidence suggests that changes may be coming. This year through June, 53 wells were reported whereas last year there were 57 and 70 in 2013. In addition, some well experts are worried that the ruling will raise land values. Because subdivisions have to use less water per home, they would put less homes on a parcel of land. Whereas ten homes may have shared the water before, now only a few may be able to. Not only would there be less home inventory on the market, homebuyers may have to buy larger segments of land as well—both of which would raise prices, potentially slowing development.
The ruling may also just affect how people live in Montana but not the overall growth. The ruling could potentially lead to more urbanization as developers move towards hooking up to city water, rather than having to jump through the hoops of attaining water rights.
Currently there are 18,000+ wells in the Gallatin Valley with 12,500 of them labeled as domestic wells.
Moving forward, it will be very interesting to see how this ruling affects subdivision development and overall growth in Bozeman, the Gallatin Valley and Montana overall.