Senate Bill No. 108
Introduced By beck
By Request of the Montana Water Adjudication Advisory Committee
A Bill for an Act entitled: "An Act generally revising water adjudication laws; allowing the water court to adjudicate abandonment of water rights; allowing a water judge to consider relevant evidence arising before or after July 1, 1973; providing for the water court to enter a temporary preliminary decree for any category of claim that requires adjudication; requiring objections to be filed at the initial decree stage; allowing claimants and objectors to amend their claims or objections; giving claimants an opportunity to file counterobjections; encouraging increased use of alternative dispute resolution; clarifying the process for administering water rights pending adjudication; amending sections 3-7-501, 85-2-227, 85-2-231, 85-2-233, and 85-2-406, MCA; and providing an immediate effective date."
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Montana:
Section 1. Section 3-7-501, MCA, is amended to read:
"3-7-501. Jurisdiction. (1) The jurisdiction of each judicial district concerning the determination and interpretation of cases certified to the court under 85-2-309 or of existing water rights is exercised exclusively by it through the water division or water divisions that contain the judicial district wholly or partly.
No A water judge may not preside over matters concerning the determination and interpretation of cases certified to the
court under 85-2-309 or of existing water rights beyond the boundaries specified in 3-7-102 for his the judge's division
except as provided in 3-7-201.
(3) The water judge for each division shall exercise jurisdiction over all matters concerning cases certified to the court
under 85-2-309 or concerning the determination and interpretation of existing water rights within
his the judge's division as
specified in 3-7-102 that are considered filed in or transferred to a judicial district wholly or partly within the division.
(4) The determination and interpretation of existing water rights includes, without limitation, the adjudication of total or partial abandonment of existing water rights occurring at any time before the entry of the final decree."
Section 2. Section 85-2-227, MCA, is amended to read:
"85-2-227. Claim to constitute prima facie evidence -- relevant evidence -- abandonment. (1) For purposes of adjudicating rights pursuant to this part, a claim of an existing right filed in accordance with 85-2-221 or an amended claim of existing right constitutes prima facie proof of its content until the issuance of a final decree. For purposes of administering water rights, the provisions of a temporary preliminary decree or a preliminary decree, as modified after objections and hearings, supersede a claim of existing right until a final decree is issued.
(2) A water judge may consider all relevant evidence in the determination and interpretation of existing water rights. Relevant evidence under this part may include admissible evidence arising before or after July 1, 1973.
(3) A water judge may determine all or part of an existing water right to be abandoned based on a consideration of all relevant evidence, including, without limitation, evidence relating to acts or intent occurring in whole or in part after July 1, 1973."
Section 3. Section 85-2-231, MCA, is amended to read:
"85-2-231. Temporary preliminary and preliminary decree. (1) A water judge may issue a temporary preliminary decree prior to the issuance of a preliminary decree if the temporary preliminary decree is necessary for the orderly adjudication or administration of water rights.
(2) (a) The water judge shall issue a preliminary decree. The preliminary decree
shall must be based on:
(i) the statements of claim before the water judge;
(ii) the data submitted by the department;
(iii) the contents of compacts approved by the Montana legislature and the tribe or federal agency or, lacking an approved compact, the filings for federal and Indian reserved rights; and
(iv) any additional data obtained by the water judge.
(b) The preliminary decree
shall must be issued within 90 days after the close of the special filing period set out in
85-2-702(3) or as soon thereafter after the close of that period as is reasonably feasible.
This section does not prevent the The water judge from issuing may issue an interlocutory decree or other temporary
decree, pursuant to 85-2-321 or as provided in subsection (1) of this section, or if such a an interlocutory decree is
otherwise necessary for the orderly administration of water rights prior to the issuance of a preliminary decree.
(3) A temporary preliminary decree may be issued for any hydrologically interrelated portion of a water division, including
but not limited to a basin, subbasin, drainage, subdrainage, stream, or single source of supply of water, or any claim or
group of claims at a time different from the issuance of other temporary preliminary decrees
or portions of the same decree.
(4) The temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree
shall must contain the information and make the
determinations, findings, and conclusions required for the final decree under 85-2-234. The water judge shall include in the
preliminary decree the contents of a compact negotiated under the provisions of part 7 that has been approved by the
legislature and the tribe or federal agency.
(5) If the water judge is satisfied that the report of the water master meets the requirements for the preliminary decree
forth in subsections (1) and (3) and is satisfied with the conclusions contained in the report, the water judge shall adopt the
report as the preliminary decree. If the water judge is not so satisfied, he the water judge may , at his option, recommit the
report to the master with instructions , or modify the report and issue the preliminary decree. (6) In issuing a subsequent preliminary decree, the water judge shall incorporate the temporary preliminary decree for the
basin as modified by objections and hearings. The temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree, as modified after
objections and hearings, is enforceable and administrable according to its terms among parties ordered under 85-2-406. The
preliminary decree, as modified after objections and hearings, shall upon issuance supersede and replace the temporary
Section 4. Section 85-2-233, MCA, is amended to read:
"85-2-233. Hearing on temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree -- procedure. (1) (a) For good cause
shown and subject to the provisions of subsection
(7) (9), a hearing must be held before the water judge on any objection to
a temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree by:
(i) the department;
(ii) a person named in the temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree;
(iii) any person within the basin entitled to receive notice under 85-2-232(1); or
(iv) any other person who claims rights to the use of water from sources in other basins that are hydrologically connected to the sources within the decreed basin and who would be entitled to receive notice under 85-2-232 if the claim or claims were from sources within the decreed basin.
(b) For the purposes of this subsection (1), "good cause shown" means a written statement showing that a person has an ownership interest in water or its use that has been affected by the decree.
(c) A person does not waive the right to object to a preliminary decree by failing to object to a temporary preliminary
decree issued before [the effective date of this act]. However, a person may not raise an objection to a matter in a
preliminary decree if that person was a party to the matter when the matter was previously litigated and resolved as the
result of an objection raised in a temporary preliminary decree
, unless the objection is allowed for any of the following
(i) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(ii) newly discovered evidence that by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b), Montana Rules of Civil Procedure;
(iii) fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party;
(iv) the judgment is void; or
(v) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.
(d) After [the effective date of this act], a person may not raise an objection or counterobjection to a matter contained in a subsequent decree issued under this part if the matter was contained in a prior decree issued under this part for which there was an objection and counterobjection period unless the objection is allowed for any of the following reasons:
(i) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(ii) newly discovered evidence that by due diligence could not have been discovered at the close of the objection period set forth in subsection (2);
(iii) fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party;
(iv) the temporary preliminary decree is void; or
(v) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the prior decree issued under this part. The fact that a prior owner of a water right did not object or counterobject at a prior decree stage may not be a basis for a subsequent owner of the water right to object or counterobject absent a finding that one of the provisions in this subsection (1)(d) applies.
If a hearing is requested, the request Objections must be filed with the water judge within 180 days after entry of the
temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree. The water judge may, for good cause shown, extend this time limit up
to two additional 90-day periods if application for an extension is made prior to expiration of the original 180-day period or
any extension of it.
(3) Upon expiration of the time for filing objections under subsection (2), the water judge shall notify each party whose claim received an objection that an objection was filed. The notice must set forth the name of each objector and must allow an additional 60 days for the party whose claim received an objection to file a counterobjection to the claim or claims of the objector. Counterobjections must be limited to those claims that are included within the particular decree issued by the court.
(3)(4) The request for a hearing Objections and counterobjections must specify the paragraphs and pages containing the
findings and conclusions to which objection is made. The request must state the specific grounds and evidence on which
the objections are based. (4)(5) (a) Upon expiration of the time for filing objections and upon timely receipt of a request for a hearing
counterobjections under subsection (3), the water judge shall notify each party named in the temporary preliminary decree
or preliminary decree or that person's successor as documented in the department records that a hearing has been requested
objections and counterobjections have been filed. The water judge shall fix a day when all parties who wish to participate in
future proceedings must are required to appear or file a statement. The water judge shall then set a date for a hearing. The
water judge may conduct individual or consolidated hearings. A hearing must be conducted in the same manner as for other
civil actions. At the order of the water judge, a hearing may be conducted by the water master, who shall prepare a report of
the hearing as provided in Rule 53(e), Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.
(b) In conducting hearings pursuant to this chapter, a water judge may require the parties to participate in settlement conferences or may assign the matter to a mediator. Any settlement reached by the parties is subject to review and approval by a water judge.
(6) After the issuance of a temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree, notice of any motion to amend a statement of claim or a timely filed objection that may adversely affect other water rights must be published for 3 consecutive weeks in two newspapers of general circulation in the basin where the statement of claim or objection was filed. The notice must specify that any response must be filed within 45 days of the date of the last notice. The water judge may order any additional notice of the motion as the water judge considers necessary. The costs of the notice required pursuant to this subsection must be borne by the moving party.
(5)(7) Failure to object under subsection (1) to a compact negotiated and ratified under 85-2-702 or 85-2-703 bars any
subsequent cause of action in the water court. (6)(8) If the court sustains an objection to a compact, it may declare the compact void. The agency of the United States, the
tribe, or the United States on behalf of the tribe party to the compact is permitted 6 months after the court's determination to
file a statement of claim, as provided in 85-2-224, and the court shall issue a new preliminary decree in accordance with
85-2-231. However, any party to a compact declared void may appeal from that determination in accordance with those
procedures applicable to 85-2-235, and the filing of a notice of appeal stays the period for filing a statement of claim as
required under this subsection. (7)(9) Upon petition by a claimant, the water court may grant a motion for dismissal to an objection to a temporary
preliminary or preliminary decree if the objection pertains to an element of a water right that was previously decreed and if
dismissal is consistent with common-law principles of issue and claim preclusion. (8)(10) The provisions of subsection (7) (9) do not apply to issues arising after entry of the previous decree, including but
not limited to the issues of abandonment, expansion of the water right, and reasonable diligence."
Section 5. Section 85-2-406, MCA, is amended to read:
"85-2-406. District court supervision of water distribution. (1) The district courts shall supervise the distribution of
water among all appropriators. This supervisory authority includes the supervision of all water commissioners appointed
prior or subsequent to July 1, 1973. The supervision
shall must be governed by the principle that first in time is first in
(2) (a) A district court may order the distribution of water pursuant to a district court decree entered prior to July 1, 1973, until an enforceable decree is entered under part 2 of this chapter or the matter has been adjudicated under the procedure set forth in subsection (2)(b).
(b) When a water distribution controversy arises upon a source of water in which not all existing rights have
conclusively determined according to part 2 of this chapter or when a basin is the subject of a temporary preliminary decree
or preliminary decree, as modified after objections and hearings, any party to the controversy or any person whose rights
are or may be affected by enforcement of the decree may petition the district court for relief to certify the matter to the chief
water judge. If a certification request is made, the district court shall certify to the chief water judge the determination of
the existing rights that are involved in the controversy according to part 2 of this chapter. The district court from which
relief is sought may shall retain exclusive jurisdiction to grant injunctive or other relief which that is necessary and
appropriate to preserve property rights or the status quo pending the issuance of the final decree pending adjudication of the
existing water rights certified to the water judge. Certified controversies must be given priority over all other adjudication
matters. After determination of the matters certified, the water judge shall return the decision to the district court with a
tabulation or list of the existing rights and their relative priorities.
(3) A controversy between appropriators from a source that has been the subject of a final decree under part 2 of this
chapter must be settled by the district
court that issued the final decree court. The order of the district court settling the
controversy may not alter the existing rights and priorities established in the final decree except to the extent the court alters
rights based upon abandonment, waste, or illegal enlargement or change of right. In cases involving permits issued by the
department, the court may not amend the respective rights established in the permits or alter any terms of the permits unless
the permits are inconsistent or interfere with rights and priorities established in the final decree. The order settling the
controversy must be appended to the final decree, and a copy must be filed with the department. The department must be
served with process in any proceeding under this subsection, and the department may, in its discretion, intervene in the
(4) A temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree or a portion of a temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree as modified after objections and hearings is enforceable and administrable according to its terms. If an action to enforce a temporary preliminary decree or preliminary decree is commenced, the water judge shall upon referral from the district court establish, in a form determined to be appropriate by the water judge, one or more tabulations or lists of all existing rights and their relative priorities.
(a) A person whose existing rights and priorities are determined in a temporary preliminary decree or preliminary
decree or a person exercising a suspension under 85-2-217 and part 7 of this chapter may appeal a determination made
pursuant to subsection (2). (b) The water judge is not bound by a supreme court determination on an appeal entered under this subsection in issuing
any subsequent decree under part 2 of this chapter."
NEW SECTION. Section 6. Saving clause. [This act] does not affect rights and duties that matured, penalties that were incurred, or proceedings that were begun before [the effective date of this act].
NEW SECTION. Section 7. Effective date. [This act] is effective on passage and approval.