Household and Landscape Uses

In addition to drinking water, other household uses—such as showering or bathing, washing clothes, flushing toilets, and maintaining landscapes—have a significant impact on our water resources. The average household uses approximately 40 percent of its water for flushing waste through toilets. There are a number of devices such as water-efficient appliances, showerheads and toilets that can help conserve water in and around our homes. Even greater conservation can be obtained through water-efficient landscaping, or xeriscaping. Xeriscaping means creating a landscape which tolerates drought conditions. Contrary to some thinking, xeriscaping does not require replacing plants with hardscapes. Xeriscaping instead focuses on landscaping appropriate for the amount of water an area normally receives, resulting in healthier, longer lasting landscapes that require less water, time, money, and chemicals to maintain. This is achieved best by using plants native to the area. Established plants that have been wisely chosen will also survive drought conditions where those conditions are new. 

Figure 4.12: Water spigot. Source: Todd Berget

Xeriscaping considers:

Choosing the right grasses also helps conserve water. Grasses that work best in our watershed are those that have low water and mowing requirements, are adapted to local soil types, and are highly insect and disease resistant. Grasses with rhizomatous root systems (typically horizontal, usually underground stem that often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes) are best because they form a dense matt which retain moisture and cool temperatures in hot, dry summer months. Watering plays an important role in the drought tolerance of plants. Heavy, infrequent watering encourages deep root growth and enables grasses and other plants to be more drought tolerant. Grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees all require different watering cycles. It is therefore best to drip irrigate landscape plants separately from lawn watering.

Agricultural Water
The Flathead Watershed has a long, proud legacy of agriculture. Although the number of productive farms and ranches has declined in recent years, generations of families continue farming and ranching in the region. Farming and ranching requires knowledge, skills, and the ability to match agricultural needs with water availability. Irrigation canals or ditches play an integral role in the agricultural landscape of the Flathead Watershed. It is important to be aware of the effects of these canals on adjacent land and to understand the regulations concerning irrigation canals crossing your property. Valid water rights are required before any water can be taken or diverted from an irrigation canal.

And, just as household wells require maintenance, so do irrigation canals. Easements along these canals need to be clear and easily passable for critical maintenance conducted throughout the year. Dumping excess dirt and yard waste from neighboring properties in or around the canals or easements can cause serious water obstruction or flooding. It is also important to realize that high ground water tables and flooding can occur during peak irrigation times, and may spread from irrigation canals to neighboring properties.

Water Rights & Permitting
The State of Montana owns all surface, underground, flood, and atmospheric waters within the boundaries of the State for the use of the people. Because the water is state-owned, water rights holders own a right to use water within the State guidelines, but they do not own the water itself. Water rights are guided by the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation known as “first in time is first in right.” This doctrine gives the priority right to divert water from a water source for “beneficial” uses to the person (“appropriator”) who first put the water to use, known as the “senior right.” In Montana, “beneficial” refers to use of water that benefits the appropriator, other persons, and the public, and includes agricultural, domestic, fish and wildlife, industrial, irrigation, mining, municipal power, and recreational uses. The priority system is used to settle disputes that often arise in low-flow years, when more than one appropriator wishes to use the same limited supply of water.

In 1973, Montana passed the Water Use Act, which reformed the water rights process. This Act grandfathered in all previous historic water appropriations, created a permitting process for new water rights, adopted a central records system to be managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), and outlined a process to resolve water rights disputes. The law was amended in 1979 to create a Water Court to “adjudicate” claims for water use in State courts.  For administrative purposes, the State was divided into 85 “basins” which reflect the boundaries of the involved watersheds.

A permit must be obtained from the DNRC for any new or expanded use of any surface or ground water including diverting, impounding, withdrawing, or distributing it, as well as for in-stream rights. Typically, when land is sold or exchanged, title to the existing water rights is transferred from the existing appropriator to the new purchaser of the land unless specifically reserved or severed in the deed. Water rights can also be lost if there is nonuse, abandonment, or an intent to abandon. Some basins and subbasins in the State have been closed to new appropriations because they have been deemed highly appropriated. It is essential to learn, understand, and stay abreast of changes that may impact your water rights.

For a complete listing of Permitting and Other Laws, click on icon:

Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes
Natural Resources Information System (NRIS)
at the State Library
Water Rights
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
U.S. Geological Survey, Helena
Montana Native Plant Society
Drought Tolerant Plants & Xeriscaping in Montana information booklet
Montana Nursery & Landscape Association
Native Plants in Montana information booklet
Montana Water Court
406.586.4364 (Bozeman Office)
800.624.3270 (toll free)
Water Rights in Montana information booklet

For more information, send email to info@flatheadwatershed.org or info@flatheadcore.org.
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