Water Policy Interim Committee

Water Committee Focuses on Exempt Well Data

Committee: Water Policy Interim Committee
Author: Jason Mohr
Posted on February 23, 2018

Image of Madison River running through Yellowstone in the winter

The Water Policy Interim Committee will focus on data and policy ideas at its upcoming meeting on March 5 as it again discusses Montana’s groundwater exemption.

State law does not require a water right permit if a new groundwater well or developed spring does not exceed 35 gallons a minute or 10 acre-feet a year. This groundwater exemption has facilitated the development of subdivisions and farming operations in Montana, prompting some concerns about the long-term effects of thousands of unpermitted wells on water availability and existing water users. The Legislature has passed bills in recent sessions addressing the issue, most of which have been vetoed by the governor, and decisions by a district court and the Montana Supreme Court in 2014 and 2016, respectively, have limited the use of exempt wells. As a result of these rulings, new subdivisions may have to share one exemption between all of a development’s lots – or obtain a water right permit or create fewer, bigger lots.

WPIC requested 10 years’ worth of permit exemption data from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which will be a focus at the March meeting. The committee will also hear about a proposed statewide effort to pull stakeholders together on this issue, among other issues.

The committee will also continue its study of the process of changing a water right by revisiting the impacts of a piece of 2009 legislation. House Bill 40 revised deadlines and other requirements for water right permits and changes.
The committee will also hold hearings on the following:

  • Issues of climate and law related to Montana forest management
  • An early look at the state drought and water supply status

WPIC is led by Sen. Pat Connell (R-Hamilton), presiding officer, and Rep. Zach Brown (D-Bozeman), vice presiding officer. Other members are Sens. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena), Jon Sesso (D-Butte), and Jeffrey Welborn (R-Dillon); and Reps. Bob Brown (R-Thompson Falls), John Fleming (D-St. Ignatius), and Carl Glimm (R-Kila).

WPIC will meet at 8 a.m. on March 5 in Room 172 of the Capitol in Helena. The meeting will be live-streamed at www.leg.mt.gov and will be broadcast on Television Montana (TVMT). Please check your local channel listings to find TVMT in your area. 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.

Committee Website:  www.leg.mt.gov/water
Committee Staff:  jasonmohr@mt.gov or 406-444-1640