Montana Water News
September 30, 2008

Welcome to the newsletter about all things water in Montana!

MONTANA WATER NEWS will come your way via email every month with fresh news about meetings and water topics that we hope is of interest to you. If you do not want to receive this newsletter, please scroll down and follow the directions to unsubscribe. If you are seeing only text in this email, or if it's not easy to read, please make sure your email program is set to view "HTML" messages, or view the newsletter online in the newsletter archives.

MBMG’s Cam Carstarphen on the Ground-Water Information Center
Cam Carstarphen
Cam Carstarphen and Annie
Cam Carstarphen grew up in North Carolina and did undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Guilford College. She made a coast-to-coast traverse to attend graduate school at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. In 1993 she moved to the Bitterroot Valley and worked on a research project with the Bitterroot National Forest that involved GIS, fire science and geology. Later she accepted a job at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG) with the Ground-Water Characterization Program, a component of the larger Ground-Water Assessment Program. For more program information go to

Q: Please describe the basic work and mission of the Ground-Water Information Center.

A: Before I begin addressing this question let me give a quick description of the program structure. The Ground-Water Information Center (GWIC) is housed within the Montana Ground-Water Assessment Program at the MBMG. Also housed within this program are the State-wide monitoring network and Ground-Water Characterization, which is the part of the Assessment Program on which I concentrate. The Ground-Water Assessment Program was created by the Montana Ground-Water Assessment Act of 1991. The Montana Ground-Water Characterization Program is charged with mapping the distribution and documenting the water quality and physical properties of the state's aquifers. The State-wide Monitoring Network is complete, but ever-refining. Currently it has around 900 wells that either have continuous recording instrumentation or quarterly hand measurements. These sites are also sampled periodically for full water-quality analysis. Most sites have one tritium analysis, and one radon analysis. A few have other isotope data as well. GWIC is the place where all information developed by the Assessment Program is housed, and the place from which it is disseminated. GWIC takes on a larger role though than just housing ground-water assessment data, because it is the legislatively mandated place where water well logs and aquifer test data reside. It also stores data from other MBMG ground-water projects and programs and some data from other agencies.

The Montana Ground-Water Assessment Program is mapping the distribution and documenting the water quality and physical properties of the State's aquifers.

Q: Your specific role is with the Montana Ground-water Characterization Program. Tell us about that program, your work and what it is intended to accomplish.

A: The Characterization Program systematically conducts reconnaissance-level ground-water studies across Montana. Where the program works is not issue or problem driven, but is intended to generate hydrogeologic atlases describing ground- water throughout the state. So far, the program has produced more than 40 ground-water maps covering 12 counties with some overlap into three other counties. The program has collected high-quality ground-water data from more than 8,000 wells in 16 counties. The Ground-Water Assessment Steering Committee determines where and in what order Ground-Water Characterizations take place.

I came to Butte and the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in November of 1994 to work with the program. I spend most of my time conducting field work. This includes making preliminary contact with interested people and groups in study areas, organizing our field effort, collecting data, entering data, grooming data, producing the first map in a series for each study area with the help of Don Mason and Larry Smith, and writing final reports for special focus projects within the study area.

Q: This seems like a daunting task. Obviously, ground-water is subject to many factors that control its quality and quantity. What are among the most surprising results you have found with the well testing? And for any “negative findings” - what can be done to mitigate them?

A: Our task is to define the geologic-hydrogeologic framework of our study areas, and to describe the water-quality and water-quantity characteristics of the hydrogeologic components from a “basic” framework perspective. Our “testing” involves water level collection and sampling. The bulk of our sampling involves major cation/anions, trace metals, and nitrate. A few wells are sampled for tritium, and in a few special focus studies we have looked at chlorinated fluorocarbons, and useful isotopes (deuterium, O18, O16 and N15). By and large, our state’s water quality is excellent. There are specific geologic units like the Willow Creek pluton in the Bitterroot Valley or the Lowland Creek volcanic rocks outside of Butte that act as aquifers but impart trace-metal concentrations to the ground-water that are above national health standards. And there are a few Cretaceous shale aquifers with concentrations of nitrate that are harmful to livestock (the Bearpaw shale near Molt), or high dissolved solid concentrations making the water distasteful to drink. These are all issues stemming from the physical/mineralogic characteristics of the aquifer geology, and all can be mitigated through conventional filtering/in home treatment techniques.

The most interesting sampling result from our work for me is from the tritium/helium-3 sampling that John LaFave conducted in the Missoula Valley. The background helium-4 concentrations in the ground-water within the basin-fill material interfered with accurate age-determination techniques used on the water samples. Further sampling results from John’s work which included ground-water and aquifer material sampling, indicated excessive levels of terrigenic helium 4. It is highly unusual to find such high concentrations in basin-fill, as such levels are usually associated with bedrock material. Curiously though, the USGS had found such levels in the Dillon area. The high terrigenic helium-4 values present unanswered questions for the inquisitive to ponder. To learn more about those findings you can read his open-file report (GWOF 17) of 2002, Tracing ground-water flow in the Missoula valley aquifer, southwest Montana.

Big Hole River
The Big Hole Watershed Management Project is increasing the understanding of how ground-water and surface water interact.

Q: What spurred creation of GWIC and is this part of any larger study being done regionally or nationally?

A: The Ground-Water Assessment Act of 1991 was born out of the state’s desire to have information on hand that could aid in making long-term management and planning decisions. Our work is completely state-funded. GWIC and the State-wide monitoring network are to be funded into the future, and although the Characterization Program started with an anticipation for each study area to require only one year’s worth of work, funding levels have not been sufficient for that level of work. Tom Patton’s (director of the Ground-water Assessment Program) and Luke Buckley’s (GWIC manager) work has put Montana on the map as a state with a very functional state-wide database. They have shared their experience, challenges and successes with other states seeking to create a similar program. Tom is currently on a nation-wide working committee attempting to create a national monitoring network.

Q: Water availability is a big concern in Montana and throughout the West. A Ground-Water Monitoring Program report suggests that “the current drought is slightly less intense but lengthier than the first of two dry periods in the 1930s” [ (3.8 MB)]. What is the impact of the current drought on the ground-water and what do you think it will take to assure we do not deplete the aquifers faster than they can be recharged, considering that measured impacts might not show up as soon as we would like for optimal management?

A: Your question brings into focus the third part of Ground-Water Assessment; the Ground-Water Monitoring Program. Ground-Water Monitoring is designed to create long-term records of water level and water quality so that questions such as the impact of drought can be examined. The illustration to which you refer was intended to compare the climatologic intensity of the current (as of 2005) drought with the droughts of the 1930s. It was not intended to make a statement that impacts from either drought were more or less than the other. The best way to determine the impact on any given well is to look at its hydrograph. Whether or not a well has difficulty at any given level of drought depends closely on its own hydraulic characteristics. Wells that have little water standing in their bottoms or which require large drawdown to operate are in most danger.

You can look at water level records for the more than 900 wells in the statewide monitoring network through the SWL Menu pages on the GWIC website. Our only direct measure of storage or pressure in these aquifers are water-level or pressure measurements. Tracking the change through time is the way we tell what is happening with ground-water storage.

Q: Where are the healthiest ground-water sources in the state, both in terms of quality and quantity? Conversely, where are some of the most compromised ground-water sources in the state?

A: “Healthiest” might not be the best term to use in talking about aquifers. Aquifer water quality and quantity have more to do with the properties of the geologic unit or units acting as an aquifer than development issues. Obviously, there are examples of local contaminated aquifers like the Bonner arsenic plume, the Bozeman Solvent Site, Butte’s impacted alluvial aquifer and its bedrock aquifer on “the hill.” We’ve also documented that precipitation can have immediate and noticeable effects on recharge to our shallow sand and gravel aquifers.

In the western part of our state, in our intermontane valleys, water is relatively abundant and the quality is good. In the plains that stretch through central and eastern Montana, water quality is variable and largely a function of the geologic units that act as aquifers. Tight, Cretaceous shale aquifers support low-volume wells that produce water high in dissolved solids. The most prolific producing aquifers are generally the alluvial systems near the major streams, both east and west of the continental divide. Ground-water with the lowest dissolved solids typically also occurs in these aquifers. Dissolved solids in some eastern Montana aquifers are too elevated to be used for drinking. Some of the worst quality water can be found in the deep Madison aquifer in eastern Montana where concentrations of dissolved constituents can approach 3 times sea water.

However, regardless of the geographic position and extent of the state’s aquifers, having regular water-levels collected over an extended period of time is critical to understanding climate and development affects on our resource. Long-term data is the most important tool for understanding ground-water quantity. Without this tool, management cannot be effective or make accurate future predictions. Having said this, we have tremendous land-use transitions now. These have the potential to effect historic surface water dispersal patterns and practices. These may effect the timing and location of irrigation water flow through these alluvial benches and riparian areas as ground-water, back into stream channels; impacting aquifer recharge and storage and the timing of fish-sustaining water flows through our streams.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned or experienced with this work?

A: The most notable element of my work has been my interaction with Montanans. They’re gracious, generous, curious and interested in their resource and the landscape’s history that surrounds them; working with them has been a joy in my life.

25th Annual Montana AWRA Conference

Water Sustainability: Challenges for Montana Conference


The 25th Annual Montana AWRA conference in Big Sky is set for October 2-3. If you have not yet registered, go to There will also be a registration table at the Yellowstone Conference Center in Big Sky. For the agenda, go to

By the way, if you receive this newsletter but do not receive conference notices and would like to, please contact the Water Center at with your updated contact information.

Water Center Solicits Research Pre-Proposals and Student Fellowship Applications
The Montana Water Center announces its 2008 Request for Pre-Proposals (RFPP) for USGS seed grant funds for water-related research in the state of Montana. A full announcement of the RFPP can be found at

Special consideration will be given to proposals to investigate:

  • the impact of exempt wells, especially on groundwater supplies
  • research on aquatic nuisance species, especially their control and prevention
  • climate reconstruction and climate trend research and analysis, especially to help manage and/or maximize water supplies
  • uranium, or other potentially toxic elements, in groundwater and their geologic sources and occurrence.
  • impacts on water quality and water quantity of putting Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and back into agricultural production.
  • tracking nitrogen, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in water, and their possible cumulative or synergistic effects.

The submission deadline for pre-proposals is 5 pm October 17, 2008. Contact Steve at to let him know of your intent to submit a pre-proposal. The grants will cover research conducted between March 2009 and February 2011. Any faculty member at a Montana institution of higher learning is eligible for these grants.

The Water Center also announces its Student Fellowship Request for Applications. The fellowships extend from March 2009 to February 2010. Deadline for submittal is November 19, 2008. Further information on this program and the application process can be found at Any graduate or undergraduate student attending a Montana university and pursuing appropriate water-resource research is welcome to apply.

DNRC Ag Study
In 2007 the Montana Legislature directed DNRC to study the value of irrigated agriculture to Montana’s economy, and how agriculture and our economy might be affected through potential state investments in existing and new irrigation projects. The study has just been completed; the executive summary can be downloaded at
(164 KB).
Water Policy Interim Committee Legislative Proposal Outcomes
After months of work and meetings throughout the state, most legislative proposals put before the Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC) were approved at its September meeting. Below is a list of WPIC bills to be drafted for the 2009 Legislature. Final drafts are not yet available, but questions can be directed to Joe Kolman of the Legislative Services Division at

Bills will be drafted:

  • Providing $4.2 million in funding for a statewide hydrogeologic study that would establish baseline data to be used in making water use decisions
  • Changing the permitting process for issuing new water permits in an effort to make the process faster and easier to understand
  • Requiring public water and sewer systems for subdivisions of 30 or more lots with an average lot size of three acres or smaller
  • Requiring that mitigation and aquifer recharge plans obtain a water quality discharge permit, if necessary
  • Allowing the Department of Transportation to apply for a certificate of water right to comply with the federal Clean Water Act
  • Protecting senior water right holders with the timely enforcement of illegal water use and the resolution of water disputes.

The WPIC and the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) both endorsed a bill that would create a separate water policy interim committee, but would not alter the EQC agency oversight or water policy duties. The WPIC debated, but did not endorse, a bill requested by the EQC that would create a standing water policy subcommittee of the EQC.

DEQ 319 Grant Applications
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued its 2009 call for Clean Water Act section 319 Grant Applications. The Call for Grant Applications and more information on the 319 Grants are available at
. There are three project categories: 1) water quality restoration, 2) groundwater and 3) education and outreach. Draft applications for all categories are due to DEQ on October 31, 2008. Final applications must be by 5:00 pm on December 31, 2008. A draft application must be submitted in order to submit a final application.
Greater Gallatin Watershed Council Hosts Fall Tour
The Greater Gallatin Watershed Council is hosting its 3rd annual Fall Tour Wednesday, October 29th from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. This year's tour will follow the Bozeman Creek watershed from the Gallatin Range to the East Gallatin River. Learn about water quality and quantity issues and the impacts on the entire Gallatin Valley.

Transportation and snacks will be provided. Seating will be limited. To reserve a space or for more information, please contact Sharlyn Gunderson-Izurieta, Watershed Coordinator, Greater Gallatin Watershed Council, at 219-3739 or

Channel Migration Zone Delineation Workshop

Channel Migration Zone training will be held October 21-23, 2008 in Paradise Valley, Montana at Chico Hot Springs Resort. The workshop will provide participants with a basic understanding of channel migration zones, including the principal factors influencing channel migration, appropriate methods for mapping historic migration zones, erosion and avulsion hazard areas, and identifying future migration areas. Visit the Northwest Environmental Training Center website at to register online or for more information about the workshop.

Montana Water Law Seminar
The 8th Annual Montana Water Law Seminar will be held October 9-10, 2008 in Helena at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel. The program addresses recent water-related developments expected to affect the public, business, all levels of government and the environment, both in the state and regionally. Topics include water rights valuation, land use planning and water permitting, and tribal water rights. For more information or questions, go to, or call The Seminar Group at (800) 574-4852.
Tester Watershed Bill
Senator Jon Tester’s watershed bill has taken its second step toward becoming law: it passed out of committee on Thursday, September 11. Matt Jennings is responsible for taking comments and questions about the bill. Contact him at
Center for Watershed Protection Releases an RFP for its Technical Capacity Mini-Grant Program
With funding from a U.S. EPA Targeted Watershed Initiative Grant, the Center for Watershed Protection is currently inviting proposals for its Technical Capacity Mini-Grant program, awarding direct assistance and financial support to a wide range of small watershed organizations. These small watershed organizations play a key role in local watershed management and, collectively, in regional water resource protection and restoration. The goal of the mini-grant program is to strengthen the technical capacity of these watershed organizations in the areas of storm water and watershed management. These funds are limited. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis, so associations are urged to act quickly. Go to for a link to the RFP.
Research Grant Opportunity
A Research Grant Opportunity is available for “Hydrologic Sciences,” sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Hydrologic Sciences focuses on the flow of water and transport processes within streams, soils, and aquifers. Studies may also deal with processes in aqueous geochemistry and with the physical, chemical, and biological processes within water bodies. Approximately $7.4 million is available to fund thirty to forty awards. For more information on the grant, visit or email Dr. Doug James at
US Fish & Wildlife Service Wetlands Grant Opportunity
The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Small Grants Program is a competitive, matching grants program that supports public-private partnerships carrying out projects in the United States that further the goals of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. These projects must involve long-term protection, restoration, and/or enhancement of wetlands and associated uplands habitats for the benefit of all wetlands-associated migratory birds. Grant requests may not exceed $75,000. A total of $2 million has been approved to support projects in 2008. Proposals are due by October 30, 2008. For more information, go to
Books & Resources
Landowners’ Guide to Montana Wetlands and Landowners’ Guide to Eastern Montana Wetlands and Grasslands
Landowners Guide
Landowners’ Guide to Montana Wetlands and Landowners’ Guide to Eastern Montana Wetlands and Grasslands are now available. The guides provide information to help landowners make informed decisions about managing, protecting and restoring wetlands. Guides can be downloaded from
. You can also contact for free copies, or call 994-6671.
Free White Papers on the Engineer's Role in Mitigating Global Warming
The American Society of Civil Engineers has published a 73-page, special issue of Leadership and Management in Engineering, entitled “Engineering Strategies for Global Climate Change.” In this collection of feature articles, several writers present visions of the future for which the engineering profession needs to further respond and act. The articles are available online, free to the public, at
Drought Status Map
Drought Map
A Drought Status Map of Montana has been updated for September 2008. To see the map, visit
USGS Podcasts Now Available from Water Homepage
The USGS now produces podcasts. The podcasts range from less than 10 minutes to an hour long. Intended audiences range from general to scientific. To find these podcasts, visit and click on "Selected Podcasts about water" under "Of Current Interest...".

Do you have more news?

The Montana Water Center News welcomes your stories about water and water issues that face Montana. If you have a short story you would like to see published in this newsletter, please send your information to
Meetings of Note

Take special note of upcoming national and local water meetings on the Events Calendar at MONTANA WATER.

Event MT Section AWRA 25th Annual Conference, Big Sky, October 2-3, 2008 [INFO]

Event Pacific Salmonid Spawning Habitat Restoration Workshop, Portland, OR, October 2-3, 2008 [INFO]

Event Andy Robinson Fundraising Workshop, Helena, October 3, 2008 [INFO]

Event Flow 2008: Science, Policy, Public, Dialogue, San Antonio, TX, October 7-9, 2008 [INFO]

Event 8th Annual Montana Water Law Seminar, Helena, October 9-10, 2008 [INFO]

Event NGWA International Conference on Nonrenewable Ground Water Resources, Portland, OR, October 13-14, 2008 [INFO]

Event Drought Advisory Committee Meeting, Helena, October 15, 2008 [INFO]

Event Channel Migration Zone (CMZ) Delineation Workshop, Paradise Valley, October 21-23, 2008 [INFO]

Event NCAR61: National Conference on the Advancement of Research, Savannah, GA, October 13-14, 2008 [INFO]

Event The Ecology of Pacific Salmonids, Anchorage, AK, November 5, 2008 [INFO]

Event Pacific Salmonid Spawning Habitat Restoration Workshop, Anchorage, AK, November 6-7, 2008 [INFO]

Event NSF Water Workshop: Water Dynamics, Burlington, VT, November 9-13, 2008 [INFO]

You have been sent this newsletter as a subscriber. If you no longer wish to receive our newsletter, please go to to unsubscribe.