County Groundwater study completed

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, the Carbon Conservation District (CCCD) presented findings of the groundwater and surface water interaction study on the Rock Creek Watershed at the Joliet Community Center. About 25 people attended. CCCD Administrator Darlene Schwend hosted the event. The CCCD wanted more information than what they had. Attendees appeared to consist of county residents, ranchers and farmers. No county commissioners attended.
It was presented by Associate Research Professor Shawn Kuzara for the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology who did the research. The research was funded by a grant to Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). DNRC rep Krist Walstad attended.
Water data samples were taken from public and private land from Remington Ranch in Red Lodge to the Town of Joliet.
Kuzara concluded from the study, “There is a close connection between wells, shallow groundwater and river water.”
The first areas studied were the East and West Banks of Red Lodge. She noted “quite a few alluvial banks, nice.”
She found the groundwater in the “alluvial valley aquifers” near the mountain by Red Lodge of good quality. She explained that the mountains and hills near the Beartooths, especially on the East Bench, are “really chopped up.” That means water stays in the area, and all that mountain discharge is not ending up in Joliet. “It’s not going straight down.” West Bank has a “nice alluvial bank.”
Irrigation, climate, weather and development were considerations affecting the shallow groundwater system coming off Rock Creek in Carbon.
One man commented, “Joliet (on bedrock) has many pivots and spring irrigation. It affects groundwater.” Kuzara agreed.
She said “Some models show ditches leaking to groundwater, it’s a concern in shallow gravels for recharge. The ditch studies around Fox showed they were greatly affected by rain or snow events. “Ditch leakage and rain are very connected to the aquifer.” She added, “Any pollution would definitely affect them.”
In the middle valley she said near Red Lodge, such ditches in alluvial aquifers are not nearly as active in extremes because it they are so near to Rock Creek.
Bedrock recharge on the other hand “is local, it is truncated at the Beartooths.” She added, “So it’s really important to have the snow melt events in the spring and fall, the snow and rain events. Best is if it rains for several days-it pushes the air pockets out of the soil.”
Another bedrock aquifer tested was Stormitt Butte. “There is no irrigation or farming,” she said. The water comes solely from precipitation. There were big declines in the baseline with summer usage. In 2016, there was low precipitation and a a huge drop in the water’s baseline. “So it is really important, she again noted, to have snow melt and rain events annually."
Recharge from the Beartooths does not travel east to other areas. “What falls locally there goes into your aquifer (in Red Lodge). It’s too folded up by the mountains, too chopped up.”
She noted the alluvial areas like Red Lodge are good, with low salt. The Judith River was worst of all, “a lot of salt!”
Some good news for Carbon County was that Kuzara found no nitrates because water is flushing through the Red Lodge valley “really fast not like in Billings.” Nitrates, she said, most affects babies since it robs them of oxygen in the blood. “You can purchase test strips to test your water.”
Measuring water over one day along Rock Creek in Red Lodge she found a perfect example of that “close connection between shallow groundwater and river water.” Gravel containing snow melt contributed steadily to the water going back to the river.
Conversely, with Joliet, with less precipitation from snow and rain and more warm days leading to evaporation, there was less river water stored in gravel in one set of summer samples. This was typified in the warm 2016, season she said. “It’s all related.”
The Town of Roberts clearly had its recharge from irrigation.
Joliet has three wells that provide for the city. One was rehabbed instead of replaced, saving substantial funds. It had decreased from 100 gallons a minute to 30 due to corrosion. She said, “It’s now a really good well, easily 100 gallons/minute.” However, one local said, “No, it’s already lost about 40 gallons/minute.”
But with three wells she noted, they fill the city’s water supply faster.
The city well samples are all taken from within the alluvial aquifer by Rock Creek. “These wells are very connected to irrigation,” she said.
She said Joliet Ditch has fractures in the sandstone. “It recharges the bedrock.”
The alluvial water quality was good. “It’s a temporary storage reservoir for the surface water” and discharges back to the creek all year. Less recharge means less water to Rock Creek.
The attendees were starting to get the point when she concluded, “There’s a close connection between irrigated water, shallow groundwater and river water-that’s sensitive to land changes. Marla Moody, of Joliet, had allowed data collection samples to be taken on her property.
“If we subdivide,” asked one woman, “then we lose water and wells could dry up?”
Kuzara replied, “Obviously, that would be a huge part of the supply. You’d need to look at that carefully. Are there other ways the bedrock recharges?”
One man commented, “We noticed it was down to under 5 cfs (cubic feet per second flow) in Rock Creek by Edgar one time. That is tiny. The next time they let Cooney out, they’re supposed to make sure there’s enough water for the fish!”
The attendees discussed how some areas might be better for pivot irrigation than flooding. “It’s ok, if you don’t use more; you might use less.”
One man observed, “If we have 3-4 years of drought, we’d be in deep trouble here.” Obviously, Kuzara’s study was raising awareness.
There was also some bedrock storage but it varies-they just didn’t know how much. They are trying to get grants to help people know where to dig but not many support water grants.
“It may not matter whether you irrigate or by pivot or not in some places, by well-or it may affect it and your house (supply) as well,” she said.
The data showed irrigation water is the dominant source of recharge for alluvial aquifer, Eagle/Telegraph acquifer (Joliet) and other bedrock aquifers in the valley. Sensitive to land use changes are: Ditch linings, land conversion (irrigated to home), and irrigation application changes (flood to pivot).
“How do we make it better for the future?” she asked but said they were not coming back.
A man concluded, “I see we’ve got to figure out what we got, then we try to do something. You’re telling us-this is what we’ve got. Now, we have to figure out what to do.”
The group discussed monitoring their own wells and keeping logs in case development is sought in the area so they would establish a baseline for their area’s groundwater.
One man told a story that in one city in California, the water ran 300/gallons a minute. Then, the government developed a nearby missile base and pumped out most of the water.
She was asked, “Could area wells outside of town dry up before the city is affected? “Yes,” said Kuzara, if deeper than individual wells (city wells are over 200 feet).” With the shale in the area she said, “Yes, you’d be chasing water and so would the town.” She considered, “There are outcrops in the Pryors-but it’d be nasty, salty…”
The study should be put online early winter, at: Choose MBMG-open-file report.


Upcoming Events

  • Tuesday, July 23, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, July 26, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Rock Creek Group meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. at Calvary Church, 9 N Villard, Red Lodge.
  • Monday, July 29, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Carbon County News

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