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Missoula County seeks state approval to expand boundaries of Lolo water system

Missoula County has submitted an application to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to expand the boundary served by several water wells that feed the Lolo community.

Last year, the county submitted one change application for three water wells in Lolo, though DNRC wanted individual applications for each well. One of those wells, drilled before Montana’s 1973 Constitution was adopted, will require the county to go to water court.

“We’re just trying to expand the water rights out for all those wells,” said county public works director Shane Stack. “We are not trying to expand our water rights into the City of Missoula. We are not trying to connect to the City of Missoula’s water system. We are not coordinating with the City of Missoula at all.”

According to a county report, the Lolo system produced more than 290 million gallons of water in 2020, including industrial water service to the Lolo Creek Distillery and the Lolo Peak Brewery, along with other commercial users.

The system is served by three primary wells and one back-up well and are highly productive. But each individual well currently serves an isolated area. The county wants all three wells to service the entire Lolo community.

“All this does is expand our water rights to a location to encompass future growth and in some cases, existing use for the Lolo water system,” Stack said. “The whole intent is to make sure every one of the wells are bound by that single region.”

Missoula County’s population continues to grow at an average rate of 1.1% annually. By 2040, it’s estimated that 140,000 residents will reside within the Missoula metropolitan area and surrounding communities.

Lolo is expected to capture a portion of that growth – anticipated at 0.9% annually. At that rate, the community’s population would reach around 5,700 residents by 2040, or an increase of around 1,300 people.

“Twenty years will happen before we know it, and the folks who live there will have water,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “Given the influx of people moving to western Montana and specifically Lolo, this is thinking about the future. We’ll have the water to meet those folks’ needs.”