Exempt ground water wells and water rights changes emerged as the focus of the 2017-2018 Water Policy Interim Committee. WPIC met on July 31-Aug. 1 and developed a work plan for the next 13 months, including formal study of these two issues.
Exempt ground water wells are a perennial issue for the committee. During the 2017 legislative session, the Legislature passed House Bill 339, but Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed the measure. The bill proposed distance restrictions on new exempt ground water wells. WPIC proposes to use that bill as a starting point for its interim work.
State law exempts a user from the water rights permitting process for a well or developed spring of up to 35 gallons a minute, as long as it does not exceed 10 acre-feet of water a year. The issue has been cloudy recently, however, as the Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation misapplied state law. Specifically, the court ruled that DNRC incorrectly defined the term “combined appropriation” as a physical connection between two or more wells or developed springs appropriated from the same source. Under state law, a combined appropriation — with or without a physical connection — may not exceed the exemption’s flow and volume limits without obtaining a water rights permit. The ruling affects subdivisions that intend to rely on individual wells for each newly created lot.
The committee discussed the water rights change process during the 2015-2016 interim and will continue to explore that issue. Any change to a user’s place of diversion, place of use, purpose of use, or place of storage triggers a DNRC review.
While WPIC will likely discuss exempt wells and the water rights change process at each of their six remaining meetings, the committee will also discuss the following issues at some time during the interim:
The committee meets next on Oct. 9-10, 2017. For more information on the committee’s activities and upcoming meeting, including a full agenda, please visit the committee’s website or contact Jason Mohr, committee staff.