U.S. Water News Online
HELENA, Mont. -- Continued drought will likely make it
harder to resolve a thorny dispute over water rights on the Tongue,
Powder and Little Powder rivers this year, the governors of Montana
and Wyoming agreed.
The two states have an ongoing disagreement over whether a water
compact signed in 1950 obligates Wyoming to give priority to
Montana's senior water rights holders.
The states interpret the Yellowstone River Compact differently,
with Montana arguing the deal gives priority to those with the most
senior water rights, regardless of which side of the state line they
live on. Wyoming contends the compact only addresses post-1950 water
rights, and does not create interstate priorities on senior water
Montana threatened litigation over the issue last summer. While
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal want
to keep their states out of court, both agreed the drought, still
worsening in some areas, could complicate any possible resolution.
"Right now we're fighting over a resource that doesn't exist,"
said Freudenthal in the first meeting between the two chief
executives at the governor's residence in Helena.
The Powder, the Tongue and the Little Tongue rivers all originate
in north-central Wyoming and flow north into Montana, eventually
dumping into the Yellowstone River.
Much of north-central Wyoming and south-central Montana are
currently classified as having "exceptional" drought, the U.S.
Drought Monitor's most severe category.
The seniority of water rights becomes especially important during
drought, because priority for what water is in the rivers goes to
those with the oldest rights first.
Montana and Wyoming signed the 1950 compact to address management
of water rights in both states. But officials in Montana say only two
pre-1950 water rights in that state are being met.
Officials in Montana asked Wyoming last spring to shut off junior
water rights in the three rivers to provide drought relief to more
senior water rights holders in Montana, but Wyoming declined based on
its interpretation of the compact.
Little progress has been made since then. The meeting was
Schweitzer's first attempt to resolve the dispute since taking office
"We want to make sure we're able to develop our coal-bed methane
resources and provide quality water to our farmers in that region,"
said Richard Opper, director of the Montana Department of
While Freudenthal said he understands Montana's frustration as a
downstream water user, he made no promises for a resolution and asked
Montana officials to clarify the state's position on the issue.
"We're not quite sure what sabers you're rattling and in what
direction," he said.
Return to the
U.S. Water News' Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.