WATER WARS: A look at Gallatin Valley Water Controversies

Stop 5:
Day Ranch

Stop 6:
Fish Creek

Stop 7:
Other Considerations



Introduction; Page 2:
Problem to Address

As we all know, private rights can lead to heated and perplexing arguments regarding who actually owns the water in a stream or aquifer. Gallatin Valley is no exception. On this field trip you will be exploring one of those controversy and discovering the unique way geology is used as a weapon in the debate.

image modified from Bozeman Daily Chronicle
The Day Ranch; one of the key players in the controversy we will explore...

The Problem

A development company submitted a proposal for a 2,800 acres subdivision with an equestrian center, clubhouse and 18 hole golf course. Water for the subdivision and golf course is being pumped from a well on the valley floor up to benches. The well is near the head of a spring creek called Fish Creek. Water in Fish Creek is owned by three landowners.

  • Data produced by the development company suggests that pumping from the well does not effect water levels in Fish Creek
  • Data produced by the landowners suggests that pumping from the well removes water from the Fish Creek, violating the water rights

So the argument rests in the fact that one side believes water rights are being violated by pumping at the Day Ranch well. While the other believes that pumping at the well has no effect on Fish Creek.

Question we will address

What are the land-use and development implications of development of the Day Ranch subdivision and golf course? And how does geology play into the controversy?


Learning Goals:

  • gain an understanding of groundwater flow and aquifer properties in the Gallatin Valley
  • understand how geology influences the location of groundwater
  • gain the ability to critically evaluate the validity of data and evidence and the consequences of interpretations or conclusions
  • develop some idea of the evolution of geology and geohydrology of Gallatin Valley

  • spatial reasoning, understand what you are looking at without seeing it directly, learn to visualize the invisible
  • begin to understand how to use data to support or refute policy decisions
  • gain an appreciation of the complexity of these issues


  • Address ALL of the questions highlighted in green in the Word document provided.
  • Create a field notebook. Remember, this could be used as evidence in the lawsuit, so make sure you label your drawings and take neat and legible notes!
  • As an expert witness, a geologist, develop an argument regarding the Day Ranch controversy
  • Have fun and LEARN!!!



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