No person may commence construction on any project facilities or appropriate water prior to approval of the project by the district and receipt of a reserved water use authorization. This is to protect the potential irrigator from investing money in a system for which legal use of the water can not be approved and thus can not be used.
Sheridan County Ground-Water Management Program, Managing a Water Reservation from the Clear Lake Aquifer by Monitoring Impacts of Irrigation
A very significant water resource in eastern Montana occupies a broad valley formed by the ancestral Missouri River. The Clear Lake aquifer contains sand and gravel deposited by the ancestral Missouri River and by later glacial melt water streams. These deposits form a complex aquifer system with some areas capable of supporting high yield irrigation wells.
Lakes and wetlands cover thousands of acres overlying the Clear Lake aquifer. These lakes are important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Medicine Lake Refuge manage many of these lakes and wetlands. The USFWS is concerned that irrigation withdrawals will deplete water from the wetlands and lakes diminishing the value of the habitat. They historically object to any water development in the area.
The Sheridan County Conservation District (SCCD) was authorized to manage 15,479 acre-feet of water from the Clear Lake aquifer as part of a water reservation in 1994. DNRC stipulated that the SCCD could begin permitting for the use of up to 5,809 acre-feet of water. Once this cap was reached permitting would be suspended until it was shown that allocating additional water would not negatively impact other water resources. In 2005, the Sheridan County Conservation District requested additional water from DNRC. After further evaluation DNRC increased the allotment to 10,000 acre-feet. As the result of these mandates the SCCD has been evaluating and carefully addressing potential concerns related to increased ground-water development through their permitting system. Continued ground-water and surface-water data need to be collected and interpreted to determine if the additional 5,479 acre-feet of water can be developed. Water requirements for hydraulic fracturing in the Bakken and Three Forks Formations have resulted in the new demands for water supplies from the Clear Lake aquifer. While these demands cannot be met through the current water reservation, state permits could possibly be approved. As a result, additional competition for water resources from the Clear Lake aquifer is possible.
The SCCD, through its technical advisory committee, has developed an effective water management and monitoring program that provides data, interpretations, and recommendations to allocate water from the Clear Lake aquifer. Maintaining this monitoring program is critical to evaluate existing and future applications, determining multi-aquifer (both quantity and quality), and evaluating impacts on other water uses.
Funding to support this program has come from the DNRC Renewable Resource Grant Program.