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Old 10-24-2011, 12:01 PM   #1
badmajon
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Default Land in Montana & water access

Hey I was talking to someone about my dream of having a ranch/farm in Montana and he told me that water access is a big problem out there and if you did move out there you'd need to dig a well perhaps thousands of feet deep to get water that might cost as much as the land itself.

I have this dream of getting 40-50 acres out there and building a log cabin homestead, which I'll probably be able to do as long as I save my pennies, but it'd be tough if I need to spend 50K extra digging a 4000 foot deep well.

Does anyone know more about this issue?

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Old 10-24-2011, 01:37 PM   #2
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What part of Montana? Looking at this site ( http://water.usgs.gov/ogw/NatlAqCode-reflist.html ), it lists alluvial (basically surface), and several bedrock aquifers. Depending on where you want to be, you could catch potable water very shallow or, yes, very deep. Looks like central MT has little to nothing, while eastern has a large, Northern Great Plains aquifer. Look at this fantastic diagram: http://water.usgs.gov/ogw/aquiferbasics/ext_lowcret.html. It gives a time relationship between all water-holding units of the NGP aquifer. Looking at a geologic map of the region, the younger Tertiary rocks are surficial to the east. That explains the Tertiary-age, shallow aquifer. To the west along Idaho there's too many old faults and slivers of billion-year-old rock mixed with very young rock, which leads to splotchy/ inconsistent water. However, if you stay north where glaciation was very prevalent for the last 100,000 years (ish) you'll find unconsolidated sand and gravel based surface aquifers. I'm getting this info from this picture http://pubs.usgs.gov/ha/ha730/ch_i/gif/I010.GIF, where each color is a different age/ rock type, with Quaternary being youngest and PreCambrian being oldest. Short story: people have lived there for a really long time, and continue to survive in modern times- most likely by choosing where they'll live very carefully. Kyle

Disclaimer:
Of course, each specific plot of land will have different access to water, especially in arid climates. Also, this info is for information only and an on-site evaluation should be performed by a qualified individual.

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Old 10-24-2011, 02:34 PM   #3
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Wow, thanks for the links and info!!

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Old 10-24-2011, 02:40 PM   #4
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You also want to understand that most land in Montana is sold WITHOUT the rights to the surface or subsurface water that can be accessed from he land. There is a residential exemption from that- I think it might be 35 acre-feet a year or some such thing.

There is well log data linked from this site, which also explains water rights in Montana:

http://dnrc.mt.gov/wrd/water_rts/

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Old 10-24-2011, 02:53 PM   #5
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Pretty sure Montana uses Prior Appropriations (first come-first served) water rights, not the Riparian (property-based) water right system we east coasters are used to.

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Old 10-24-2011, 03:14 PM   #6
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So, how do you access water then? You cant dig a well, and its not like you're going to have a city water line going out there...

maybe that's why its 50K for 40 acres?

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Old 10-25-2011, 12:03 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ArcaneXor View Post
Pretty sure Montana uses Prior Appropriations (first come-first served) water rights, not the Riparian (property-based) water right system we east coasters are used to.
Huh. So, if I live in an area first and sink a well, the next guy can't come in and dig a well in the immediate area? I wonder, then, what the extents of ownership/ accessibility are? For example, I own 10 square acres, homestead centered in the acreage. New neighbor moves in and their land directly borders one side of mine. Can they drill a well, assuming we both have equal access to the aquifer? Or do I get to claim the water as mine within a given radius of the well? Then, what is that distance? Obviously it's not aquifer-wide, as that would stretch out of state boundaries. Is it within the well draw-down zone for the original homestead?

I hope I'm not sounding cynical. It's a genuine interest in the matter. I'm a geologist, but am not knowledgeable about environmental or land-use law. Nor am I out West. Buffalo doesn't have many water issues, and even less sensible ones. Kyle
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Old 10-25-2011, 01:35 AM   #8
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AlcaneXor said: "Pretty sure Montana uses Prior Appropriations (first come-first served) water rights, not the Riparian (property-based) water right system we east coasters are used to."

This is correct. I work in Environmental industry and recommend the Op contact Montana DNRC directly and ask for an answer in writing. This should give you a fairly concrete answer or at minimum point you in the correct regulatory direction. Water rights in the western US are generally very conservative, particularly in dry states such as Montana. This is murky water even for experts. I would do some SERIOUS homework before dropping a penny on land in Montana. A smart man once said "An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.". Good luck,
HB

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