A district judge on Friday overturned a state decision allowing a Creston water-bottling facility to begin production near the Flathead River, ruling that the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation erred when it granted a permit that would have allowed a company to produce more than 1 billion 20-ounce bottles per year.
The order handed a major legal victory to two nonprofit groups, the Flathead Lakers and Water for Flathead’s Future, who last year asked for additional judicial review to overturn the state’s decision.
The 20-page order came from Lewis and Clark County District Judge Kathy Seeley, who ruled on just one of the six legal objections raised by the groups and their attorneys, limiting the ruling to a single issue to make it as narrow as possible.
“Judge Seeley ruled on one issue and overturned the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s decision,” Graham Coppes, an attorney with the Ferguson Law Office in Missoula, said. “The court correctly said the state legally erred and that it didn’t meet its own minimum requirements. It was a total victory and we feel great about it.”
The order derails plans by Montana Artesian Water Co. (MAWC) and Egan Slough landowner Lew Weaver, who in 2015 received a permit from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) that would allow his company to produce up to 140,000 water bottles per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The water right would allow Weaver’s company to receive 710 acre feet of water annually, equaling roughly 1.2 billion 20-ounce water bottles.