MBMG Receives Award to Improve Groundwater Monitoring Infrastructure


The U.S. Geological Survey National Groundwater Monitoring Network (NGWM) has awarded a $110,000 contract to the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG) to install groundwater monitoring wells on the Flathead and Blackfeet Reservations, and in the Summit Valley near Butte. Additionally, about 25 wells in the current statewide observation network will be instrumented with sensors to record hourly water-level measurements. This comes following an award last year to install groundwater-level observation wells in the Hebgen Basin near West Yellowstone.

Under this award, the MBMG will team up with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Water Resources Program to install a well with an hourly monitoring sensor near the base of the Mission Mountains, to provide a measure of the "mountain-front" recharge into the basin-fill aquifer that underlies the Mission Valley. The CSKT and MBMG have a 30-year history of collaborative data collection.

"We are pleased that we could secure funding to monitor this important segment of the groundwater flow system," said Seth Makepeace, Supervisory Hydrologist, CSKT Water Resources Program. "The basin-fill aquifer is an important source of municipal, irrigation, stock and domestic water in the Mission Valley." Other wells in the CSKT network will be surveyed and equipped with monitoring equipment. "The NGWM recognizes the importance of this aquifer system from a local and national perspective and is willing to invest in improvements that ensure data quality and integrity," said John LaFave, MBMG Groundwater Assessment Program.

The MBMG will also work with the Blackfeet Nation Water Department (BNWD) to establish a groundwater monitoring network on the Blackfeet Reservation. Under the award, two wells, one shallow and one deep, will be installed on the Reservation. These wells will fill a monitoring gap. "Our plan is to coordinate with the Blackfeet Nation Water Department and the U.S. Geological Survey to identify suitable locations to monitor the shallow alluvial, and the deeper Cretaceous bedrock aquifers. Both of these aquifers are sources for domestic, stock, and public water on the Reservation," said LaFave. Jerry Lunak, BNWD, said, "With respect to the passage of our water settlement, the installation of these wells will provide a valuable training tool for students from Blackfeet Community College and data that will assist us in the management of the waters of the Blackfeet Nation." Rod Caldwell, Hydrologist at the USGS, added: "The wells and the associated instrumentation will allow us and BNWD to track changes in groundwater storage and recharge, and to monitor the effects of climate variability on the groundwater supplies."

The contract also provides for the replacement of a monitoring well in the Summit Valley near Butte. Last year a well that the MBMG has monitored for almost 35 years was vandalized, preventing additional measurements. "Data from this well tracked changes in storage, as well as the effects of long-term and seasonal climate variability in the basin-fill aquifer here in the Summit Valley," said LaFave. "Given all the Superfund activities in Butte, it provided an important background record of groundwater levels." Strong letters of support from the Butte Superfund community helped persuade the National Network Board to fund the well replacement.

This award represents a major upgrade to the MBMG’s statewide groundwater monitoring network. "Groundwater represents the largest reservoir of fresh water in Montana—it’s the most important water resource that you’ve never seen," said LaFave. "This lack of visibility can lead to an underappreciation, misunderstanding, and/or misuse of the resource. Through our partnerships, enhanced data collection, and open data distribution, we strive to make groundwater a little less mysterious and more visible."