WATER WARS: A look at Gallatin Valley Water Controversies

Stop 5:
Day Ranch

Stop 6:
Fish Creek

Stop 7:
Other Considerations



Stop 5.1 Day Ranch Overview

Who owns it? Scenario Questions Bottom Line
The question is not if the West Gallatin alluvium can yield enough water for the golf course, but rather who owns the water rights and are those water rights being violated?

Who owns the water?

The West Gallatin River Alluvial Aquifer yields an excellent amount of water and holds ample water for municipal, irrigation, domestic and stock use (Custer, 1999). In this area, the water is used primarily for stock use and irrigation. Most of the water rights in the area of pre-1900 and all of the surface water (creeks and ditches) belong to someone.

Surface and Groundwater Water Right Holders Involved in the Day Ranch controversy:

  • 3 landowners own 1881 and 1883 water rights on Fish Creek.
  • Day Ranch owns groundwater rights from the West Gallatin Alluvial Aquifer.

The Scenario:

Day Ranch pumps water from their well in the West Gallatin Alluvial Aquifer. During this pump test, water is removed from Fish Creek, a spring creek belonging to 3 downstream landowners. The developer's pump test suggest that the impact from the Day Ranch project is minimal. They suggest that the water they are pumping is groundwater for which they own water rights. The landowners' pump test suggests pumping water to the Day Ranch will violate the downstream 1881 and 1883 water rights. They suggest the groundwater Day Ranch is pumping comes to the surface at Fish Creek and therefore pumping groundwater out of the West Gallatin Alluvial Aquifer effects the downstream water rights. There are several issues that come into question here and their answers all rest in the data.

What does the law actually say? Check out the DNRC website if you would like to explore water right laws in Montana.


  1. Does pumping at the Day Ranch well truly effect downstream water rights?
  2. How does the interaction between groundwater and surface water effect the results from pump tests?
  3. Did the time of year effect the pump test results? Will it have an effect on ground and surface water if pumping takes place year-round?
  4. Consider where the pumped water is going. Will it ever arrive back in the aquifer? If so how long will it take?

Bottom Line:

How will the proposed Day Ranch project effect the surrounding natural and human systems?

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