U.S. Water News Online
HELENA, Mont. -- The Montana Department of Revenue is
mailing bills to thousands of individuals and organizations claiming
rights to water from Montana streams, and who must pay to have those
claims examined in a new state project expected to span a decade.
The bills will raise money for the Montana Department of Natural
Resources and Conservation to examine claims and gather information
the Montana Water Court may use in settling them.
The Montana Constitution written in 1972 requires a system for
adjudicating all claims to water. Of 220,000 claims filed over the
years, tens of thousands remain unexamined.
The work that began in earnest this year is financed both by state
money and with dollars the state Revenue Department intends to
collect through fees the 2005 Legislature authorized. For a farmer or
rancher, the bill is $20 per water claim, with a cap of $400 for
those who have multiple claims.
Some farmers and ranchers have 50 or 60 claims to water rights,
said DNRC Director Mary Sexton, who has about five herself.
The fees vary among different kinds of claimants, which include
irrigation companies, towns and agencies such as the Montana
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Plans call for the bills to go out every two years, ending in
Sexton said one important reason for verifying claims is the fact
that Montana has the headwaters for both the Missouri and Columbia
rivers, and muddied water rights leave people in Montana vulnerable
to claims from elsewhere.
"We have issues with Wyoming and we have issues with Canada," she
said. "As they say, whiskey's for drinking and water's for fighting."
Mike Murphy of the Montana Water Resources Association, which
lobbies on water issues, said that during the legislative session
early this year the group supported the fees.
"It was a tough pill to swallow," Murphy said. "But we also felt
that expediting the (claims) process was very important to Montana
and all the water users in the state.
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