Montana Code Annotated 2023



Part 3. Metal Mine Reclamation

Action For Damages To Water Supply -- Replacement

82-4-355. Action for damages to water supply -- replacement. (1) An owner of an interest in real property who obtains all or part of the owner's supply of water for beneficial uses, as defined in 85-2-102, from an underground source other than a subterranean stream having a permanent, distinct, and known channel may sue the operator engaged in an operation for which a license is required pursuant to 82-4-332 or for which a permit is required pursuant to 82-4-335 to recover damages for loss in quality or quantity of the water supply resulting from mining or exploration. The owner is required to exhaust the administrative remedy under subsection (2) prior to filing suit.

(2) (a) An owner described in subsection (1) may file a complaint with the department detailing the loss in quality or quantity of water. Upon receipt of a valid complaint, the department:

(i) shall investigate the statements and charges in the complaint using all available information, including monitoring data gathered at the exploration or mine site;

(ii) may require the operator, if necessary, to install monitoring wells or other practices that may be needed to determine the cause of water loss, if there is a loss, in terms of quantity and quality;

(iii) shall issue a written finding specifying the cause of the water loss, if there is a loss, in terms of quantity and quality;

(iv) shall, if it determines that the preponderance of evidence indicates that the loss is caused by an exploration or mining operation, order the operator, in compliance with Title 85, chapter 2, to provide the needed water immediately on a temporary basis and within a reasonable time replace the water in like quality, quantity, and duration. If the water is not replaced, the department shall order the suspension of the operator's exploration or operating permit until the operator provides substitute water, except that nothing in this section preempts the application of Title 85, chapter 2. The operator may not be required to replace a junior right if the operator's withdrawal or dewatering is not in excess of the operator's senior right.

(b) If the department determines that there is a great potential that surface or subsurface water quality and quantity may be adversely affected by a mining or exploration operation, the operator shall install a water quality monitoring program or a water quantity monitoring program, or both, which must be approved by the department prior to the commencement of exploration or mining.

History: En. Sec. 5, Ch. 345, L. 1985; amd. Sec. 8, Ch. 637, L. 1991; amd. Sec. 2734, Ch. 56, L. 2009.