20-07: Requesting the Montana Legislature stop basin adjudications by the Montana Water Court until the vested surface stockwater rights are adequately addressed in the Montana Water Use Act

WHEREAS The Montana Conservation Districts are mandated by statute (75-15-102 MCA) to protect the soils, water, citizens, and economic base of Montana; and

WHEREAS the Montana Legislature passed the Montana Water Use Act (Act) in 1973 which changed established historic Montana water law, extinguished vested property rights, and did not adequately address surface stockwater rights; and

WHEREAS the new agency (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation) charged with cataloging and storing existing water rights misinterpreted the new law to divest ranchers of their vested historic water rights on their Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered allotments, and

WHEREAS the Montana Water Court recently upheld this misinterpretation of the Act to illegally give ranchers’ vested water rights to the BLM (Montana water law requires the applicator to divert the water and put it to beneficial use before a water right is issued – the BLM does neither);

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED the Montana Association of Conservation Districts (MACD) recommends the basin adjudications currently in progress by the Montana Water Court be stopped until the surface stockwater problems can be addressed; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the MACD requests legislation be drafted that recognizes the pre-1973 historic vested water rights and ensures these property rights are protected and upheld by all applications and interpretations of the Montana Water Use Act; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the MACD requests an amendment be made to the Act that addresses surface stockwater rights on BLM administered allotments.