This brief was filed in support of the Court’s October 2014 ruling by: Bitterrooters for Planning, Bitterroot River Protective Association, Future West, Montana Audubon, Montana Environmental Information Center, Montana Smart Growth Coalition, Northern Plains Resource Council, and Stillwater Protective Association.
This brief discusses the history of the Water Use Act, found in article IX, section 3 (4) of the Montana Constitution, and the Department of Natural Resource and Conservation’s rulemaking that implemented the Water Use Act.
The Water Use Act provides for the administration, control and regulation of Montana’s water resources by, among other things, establishing a permit system for new appropriation of water. Specifically, the Act requires a permit for new appropriations of water producing less than 35 gallons per minute and 10 acre feet per year. An applicant for a new appropriation of water must prove the water is legally and physically available; that the use is beneficial; and that the new appropriation will not adversely affect senior water rights.
In 1993, the DNRC changed the rule for the permitting of new wells and established a new rule, which allowed large consumptive water users to drill multiple wells without having to apply for a permit. There was no public hearing on this rule change, nor did DNRC explain why the rule change was necessary. Normally, a court would defer to the agency, but in this case, DNRC provided no findings of fact to justify the rule change.
This new rule allows for large consumptive water users to bypass the Water Use Act’s permitting requirement and to do so without addressing the adverse impacts to senior water rights; and places the burden of protecting senior water rights on the water rights holder, who receives no notice of the new appropriation, instead of on the applicant seeking a new water right.
The only opposition has come from the three groups that stand to benefit financially from keeping the 1993 rule in place: the Montana Well Drillers, the Montana Association of Realtors and the Montana Building Industry Association.
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