Water Policy Interim Committee

Water Committee Eyes Legislation to Improve Rule Adoption

Committee: Water Policy Interim Committee
Author: Jason Mohr
Posted on March 21, 2018

Image of Madison River running through Yellowstone in the winter

A recent administrative rule tangle prompted the Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC) to explore legislation altering the rulemaking process.

As part of its oversight duties, WPIC had objected to a proposed administrative rules package related to exempt groundwater wells. The rules package also included rules related to emergency fire department training and water rights permitting in sage grouse habitat. The committee has long focused on exempt groundwater wells; a 2016 Supreme Court ruling altered the use of the exemption. The rules package was meant to reflect the court’s ruling on exempt wells.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation formally adopted those rules last month – but weeks earlier than the committee anticipated. A change to the Montana Administrative Procedure Act may clarify timelines, according to Sen. Pat Connell (R-Hamilton). The legislation seeks to clarify how the committee may object to a single administrative rule without waylaying unrelated rules. Committee staff will present draft legislation at the committee’s May meeting.

In other action at the committee’s March 5 meeting:

  • Helena water rights attorney John Bloomquist suggested the committee participate in national forest management plans. Sen. Connell has said that management activities on these federal lands may have adverse effects on water quality and the timing of flow for senior water rights holders.
  • The committee continued its discussion of exempt groundwater wells, again hearing about a proposed private effort to study the issue. The Gallatin Association of Realtors has proposed this effort, which will include a statewide listening tour and consideration of related issues, such as land management and economic development.
  • WPIC also continued its study of the process of changing a water right. The committee will host a panel of water rights change applicants and objectors at their next meeting.

Next Meeting

The committee meets again on May 21-22, 2018. The meeting is tentatively scheduled to meet at the Bozeman City Hall, 121 N. Rouse Ave. The meeting will likely include a committee field trip within the Gallatin Valley.

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.

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).

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