– by Krista Lee Evans
Water rights are a property right critical to agricultural production, that water users need to protect.
In the early 1980’s, at the beginning of the adjudication process, the Montana Supreme Court issued an order that all water users who wanted to claim a right to use water that was put to use before 1973 had to file a claim with the Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC). The Court did, however, provide two exceptions to this requirement – instream stock use and domestic use – that was used prior to 1973. These are the “Exempt From Filing” Water Rights that we now have the chance to address.
This year’s passage of HB 110 provided a means to protect these property rights by clarifying the opportunity to file a claim for any “exempt” instream stock or domestic rights that were put to use prior to 1973, and that have not been claimed in the adjudication process.
It is important that we recognize the significant opportunity that this provides to Montana’s water users because it most likely will not occur again in the future.
Remember, it is not mandatory that you file; and if a water user chooses not to file for their pre-1973 “exempt from filing” claims, they do not lose their water right, but those rights will be subordinated to all other water rights on the stream.
Landowners should double check all of their water rights to make sure that they reflect their water use.
My advice is that if your property has any instream livestock water rights (meaning where stock drink directly from the source with no diversion), or domestic water rights (such as a home or stock well) that were put to use prior to 1973, and have not been claimed in the adjudication process, then you should seriously consider submitting a claim under the current process.
You can search for your water rights online by going to DNRC’s website water right query at http://wrqs.dnrc.mt.gov/default.aspx
From a long-time ranching family in central Montana, Krista Lee Evans now lives in Helena where she owns Blake Creek Project Management, Inc. Evans has worked as a consultant in Montana’s water rights policy arena for over 15 years.