85-2-101. Declaration of policy and purpose. (1) Pursuant to Article IX of the Montana constitution, the legislature declares that any use of water is a public use and that the waters within the state are the property of the state for the use of its people and are subject to appropriation for beneficial uses as provided in this chapter.
(2) A purpose of this chapter is to implement Article IX, section 3(4), of the Montana constitution, which requires that the legislature provide for the administration, control, and regulation of water rights and establish a system of centralized records of all water rights. The legislature declares that this system of centralized records recognizing and establishing all water rights is essential for the documentation, protection, preservation, and future beneficial use and development of Montana's water for the state and its citizens and for the continued development and completion of the comprehensive state water plan.
(3) It is the policy of this state and a purpose of this chapter to encourage the wise use of the state's water resources by making them available for appropriation consistent with this chapter and to provide for the wise utilization, development, and conservation of the waters of the state for the maximum benefit of its people with the least possible degradation of the natural aquatic ecosystems. In pursuit of this policy, the state encourages the development of facilities that store and conserve waters for beneficial use, for the maximization of the use of those waters in Montana, for the stabilization of streamflows, and for ground water recharge.
(4) Pursuant to Article IX, section 3(1), of the Montana constitution, it is further the policy of this state and a purpose of this chapter to recognize and confirm all existing rights to the use of any waters for any useful or beneficial purpose.
(5) It is the intent of the legislature that the statutory determinations for issuing new water use permits and authorizing changes do not require the adjudication of all water rights in the source of supply. The legislature recognizes the unique character and nature of water resources of the state. Because water is a resource that is subject to use and reuse, such as through return flows, and because at most times all water rights on a source will not be exercised to their full extent simultaneously, it is recognized that an adjudication is not a water availability study. Consequently, the legislature has provided an administrative forum for the factual investigation into whether water is available for new uses and changes both before and after the completion of an adjudication in the source of supply. To allow for orderly permitting in the absence of a complete adjudication in the source of supply, permits issued under this chapter are provisional. A provisional permit is subject to reduction, modification, or revocation by the department as provided in 85-2-313 upon completion of the general adjudication.
(6) It is the intent of the legislature that the state, to fulfill its constitutional duties and to exercise its historic powers and responsibilities to its citizens living on and off reservations, comprehensively adjudicate existing water rights and regulate water use within the state. It is further the legislature's intent that the state, to the fullest extent possible, retain and exercise its authority to regulate water use and provide forums for the protection of water rights, including federal non-Indian and Indian water rights, and resolve issues concerning its authority over water rights and permits, both prior to and after the final adjudication of water rights. In furtherance of this legislative intent:
(a) all permits issued are provisional, and it is the intent of the legislature that this status provide enforceable legal protection for existing rights; and
(b) any judicial determination of the state's authority to issue provisional permits on or off reservations should be decided in the appropriate state forum.