Support Proposed Rule on Exempt Water Rights

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The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) proposed a rule to close a loophole that will help alleviate pressure on our precious water resources. The proposed rule will address an often-abused policy that allows subdivision developers and large industrial sources to withdraw water without having to prove they are not impacting existing water users. While the proposed rule sounds complicated, the goal is simple. It will provide significant benefits for Montana’s waters and those that rely on them.

The Details: The DNRC is proposing to close the existing loophole by more fairly defining “combined appropriation” in state water law. DNRC is doing this to better recognize that multiple unpermitted wells withdrawing water out of the same aquifer most likely should require a water right. This proposed rule will improve DNRC’s management of our water resources, improve in-stream flows, protect senior water rights holders, and improve land use planning decisions in water stressed areas.

Under current Montana law, new water wells that use less than 35 gallons per minute or 10 acre-feet per year are generally exempt from having to apply for a water right. In 1993 DNRC wrote a rule interpreting this exemption and created a loophole that has strained Montana’s water resources. It resulted in reduced in-stream flows and reduced water available to individuals with priority water rights, such as farmers and ranchers. The proposed rule would place a density cap on combined appropriations by requiring that wells that are “physically connected into a single system” or “located within 1,320 feet of one another and are on the same tract of record” must seek a water right.

DNRC’s proposed rule also addresses subdivisions of land that use combined appropriations, by limiting developments to 10 acre feet of water per year for every 40 acres of subdivided land (or .25 acre feet per year for every additional acre over 40). This rule will prevent haphazard development of our water resources by promoting sound land-use planning principals and recognizing that water is a limited resource.

Thank you for helping to protect Montana’s waters!

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