Montana Judge Blocks Development Over Potential Groundwater Level Depletion

Montana Judge

A Montana judge has blocked a housing development organized by a member of prominent local political family after a group of local residents warned the project would deplete the area’s groundwater levels.

According to combined media reports, Broadwater County District Court Judge Michael McMahon issued an 85-page ruling berating the Broadwater County Commission its authorization of the Horse Creek Hills subdivision roughly one hour outside of Helena. The judge also criticized the state’s Department of Natural Resources for demonstrating “hostility” to a 2009 Montana Supreme Court decision that narrowed a half-century-old loophole allowing landowners to develop groundwater without proving it would not impact those who hold existing water rights.

Horse Creek Hills is envisioned as a 442-acre property consisting of 39 residential and two commercial lots. The county and the state gave permission to developer Errol Galt to proceed with the project, even though the new construction would have taken their water from wells in an area where evidence points to declining levels of groundwater.

Rancher Carole Plymale spearheaded the opposition to the project with a lawsuit that claimed state officials ignored the environmental impact of the development. Vicki Sullivan, one of the Broadwater County residents opposed to the project, welcomed the ruling and accused the state of “dogmatic rubber-stamping of multiple exempt wells.”

“The court order is not only a victory for rural residents on the eastern shore of Canyon Ferry, but it is also a victory for citizens across the state confronted by rampant sprawl development proposals exploiting our water resources,” Sullivan said. “Montana citizens now have a clear roadmap for holding their local decision-makers and state agencies accountable [by ensuring] they consider public and community comments, proactively identify negative impacts related to new sprawl development, and deny subdivisions that do not have adequate water supplies.”

Sandstone Group