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DNRC Headquarters
1539 Eleventh Ave. Helena, MT 59601
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DNRC awarded grant to improve groundwater withdrawal estimates

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s (DNRC) Water Management Bureau has received $50,000 in grant funding from the USGS Water Use Data and Research (WUDR) program.This two-year project will sync the DNRC Water Rights Information System (WRIS) with Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology’s Groundwater Information Center (MBMG GWIC) to improve the accuracy of groundwater withdrawal estimates.

Montana’s groundwater information is maintained in two distinct databases: the DNRC’s WRIS and the MBMG’s GWIC. WRIS is the state’s authoritative database for water rights, including permits for all groundwater developments, but it does not contain information about aquifers. GWIC is the state’s repository for a range of groundwater resource information, including source aquifers, well depths, lithologies, static water levels, and water quality parameters. Annual groundwater withdrawals can be estimated using the allocated volumes from the WRIS, but each water right must be linked to the source aquifer first, making it both difficult and time-consuming to develop withdrawal estimates.  By syncing the two databases, this project will facilitate the exchange of water use and groundwater data and enable hydrologists to make accurate estimates of annual groundwater withdrawals. This will promote sound management of Montana’s groundwater resources.

The data activities in this project will prioritize high-volume withdrawals for specific groundwater uses (municipal, irrigation, industrial, commercial, and institutional) and will include the entire WRIS database. Syncing the two databases will facilitate the process of making these estimates easier to calculate while also improving their accuracy. In addition, this project will establish a standard procedure to sync the two databases from this point forward, which will improve all future water-use estimates, as well as the transfer of information to USGS and other data users.

This project supports a key recommendation from Montana’s 2015 State Water Plan: to improve and expand efforts to characterize groundwater. Providing a linkage between water use and aquifer data is a simple, yet powerful approach to fulfilling this priority while also supporting the Water Resource Division’s duties of protecting existing water uses and promoting adequate future supplies for all beneficial uses.