MISSOULA — The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) will consider an application by Missoula County to expand the water rights regulating the water system used to serve the town of Lolo.
On Tuesday, the county approved its application to DNRC seeking to erase the current overlapping boundaries served by three separate water wells and expand the water rights in anticipation of future growth.
“Not only are we going to expand the use of the water rights, but we’re requesting that wells one, two and three have water rights that go out further beyond the area of Lolo,” said Shane Stack, the county’s director of Public Works.
“It allows for future growth within the Lolo community. In the next 50 years as Lolo grows, we want to be able to accommodate that growth.”
A wastewater plan adopted 21 years ago determined a sewer service area within the community, and it was the county’s intent to provide water service to the same areas served by the sewer with a planning horizon of 2045.
The study also sought to determine water demand and water rights through 2070. As a result, the county determined that both sewer and water rights would need to reach beyond the boundaries set by the study.
The area has room to grow and could see more of that growth as Missoula expands its reach. One past plan suggested the sewer and water service area could serve nearly 11,000 residents. The estimated population within the service area in 2019 was placed at roughly 3,400 people.
Planning for additional growth prompted the county to apply for expanded water rights in Lolo.
“It’s come up often we aren’t doing enough to make sure our housing stock isn’t where we need it and that we don’t make enough places for people to live,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “We’re doing what government can do by making sure the infrastructure that housing requires is actually in place, not just for today and tomorrow, but for the next 50 years.”
The three existing wells are interconnected within the Lolo water system and currently have enough volume to accommodate current needs, as well as those in the near future. But with expanded water rights, the county could widen the system to feed more residential and commercial development.
It’s also working on expanding and updating the sewer system, Slotnick said.
But while Lolo is growing as a bedroom community 11 miles south of Missoula, the community isn’t included in the county’s latest planning efforts. Missoula saw a growth rate of 2.7% between 1990 and 2010 while Hamilton saw a rate of 2.9% over the same time.
The combined average growth rate of 2.5% is being used to anticipate future growth in Lolo and determine its water needs. Given the anticipated growth and pending development, county officials believe the Lolo growth policy could be revisited.
“It’s in need of having the dust blown off of it,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “It’s outside the Land Use Element planning area for Missoula and the zoning updates we’re in the midst of now.”