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Understanding Exempt Water Rights

Water Rights

The Montana Farm Bureau is urging landowners to pay attention to a notice received from the state regarding the opportunity to file on an Exempt Water Right.  The 350,000 notices were the result of legislation passed by the 65th Montana Legislature which placed a deadline of June 30, 2019 to file a claim.

Prior to 1972 there was no requirement for a water user to file their water use.  However, the 1972 Montana Constitution recognized existing water rights and charged the state with generating a record of all water rights in the state; this created the need for statewide water adjudication.  At the beginning of the adjudication process the Montana Supreme Court issued an order that all water users who wanted to claim a right to use water that was put to use before 1973 had to file a claim with the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC).  

Two exceptions were made to this requirement – instream stock use and domestic use.  Therefore, a water right in existence before 1973 utilized for livestock and individual use, as opposed to municipal, domestic use was not required to be filed on.  Property owners are still not required to file; however, Montana Farm Bureau recommends that landowners do file if they haven’t already. 

If a water user does not file their claim they do not lose their water right, but the right will be subordinated to all other water rights on the stream.  By filing your exempt water right, you are able to enforce the right against all other timely filed water rights in the state. In addition if your exempt water right is filed and recorded with DNRC, you are entitled to receive notice of various water right proceedings in your basin.

Double check all of your water rights to ensure that they reflect your water use.  If there are any pre-1973 instream stock or domestic rights that were put to use and have not been claimed in the adjudication process, landowners should seriously consider submitting a claim under the current process.

For more information contact the DNRC at 406-444-0560 or visit www.dnrc.mt.gov.



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