By Matt Volz Associated Press

HELENA (AP) – The Montana Supreme Court has ruled against what conservationists call a loophole that allowed developers to drill numerous small wells in one area without a permit.

In a 6-1 decision Tuesday, the justices upheld a lower judge’s order striking down a regulation that resulted in about 3,000 permit-exempt water wells being drilled each year since 1993.

The regulation had said a permit is not needed for multiple small wells that draw from the same water source as long as the wells aren’t physically connected.

There are now about 113,000 exempt wells across the state, and there could be 78,000 more by the end of the decade if the regulation stayed in place.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has said the cumulative effect of all those wells is a reduction groundwater levels and surface water flow.

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