Congratulations! HB 286 has been sent to Governor Bullock and we have until May 11 to encourage him to sign the bill into law. Thank you to everyone who took the time to travel to Helena and testify in committee hearings and to reach out to your Senators and Representatives on this bill. We're nearly across the finish line, but we still need Gov. Bullock to actually sign it into law. The Governor's office is receiving a lot of pressure from DNRC to veto the bill. It's imperative that farmers and ranchers across the state contact the Governor to voice their support for HB 286.
HB 286 clarifies that the state of Montana may only obtain an ownership interest in a water right or ground water development works (diverted from private land) if a court determines the state is an owner of that particular water right or if the state is in possession of a deed transferring ownership of the water right to the state. This is the same requirement that other water users have to meet.
HB 286 provides water users due process.
The Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) Trust Land Mgmt Division has claimed partial ownership of state land lessee’s private water rights if the water is used on trust land – even if the well is on private land. Lessees simply receive a notification from DNRC that the state is now a co-owner of their water right that has been diverted, developed, and perfected on private land. Water right holders are not provided an opportunity to object to the change or a process to defend their private property right.
The state is asserting that they have a constitutional right to a portion of our water rights. If the question is constitutional, then it is very important that a court make the determination and not the Department. It is also critical that water users have due process to protect their property rights. The Court process in HB 286 provides due process.
HB 286 benefits both state trust lands and their lessees.
DNRC’s new practice of laying claim to water rights is not only an extreme violation of private property rights, but also a disincentive to utilizing water on state-owned lands. For years, landowners have chosen to manage their land and the state land they lease in the most productive, sustainable manner possible. For some, that meant diverting water from their private well or developed spring (that they paid for) onto their state lease.
This practice benefits both the state and the lessee. With water, the land is able to accommodate an increased number of livestock. Lessees are able to run more head and the state generates higher revenue as a result of the higher AUM. Similarly so, lessees increase the productivity of their leased state cropland by irrigating it, while the associated trust reaps the benefit of an increased crop-share following harvest.
However, landowners made these decisions under the assumption that their water right was protected. They will not make the same decision if their water right no longer receives protection or due process. Failure to pass HB 286 will do an incredible disservice to our state trust lands as lessees will simply choose not to utilize water on state land.
Governor Bullock needs to hear how important your water rights are to the management and longevity of your farm or ranch, and how HB 286 provides lawful protection of that private property right.
Follow the link below to send Governor Bullock an email. We have a sample message available to help you get started, but it is absolutely critical for you to personalize it with your own thoughts. Your personal stories are impactful, so please take a moment to make the message your own.