U.S. Water News Online
HELENA, Mont. -- The state of Montana has asked Wyoming to
shut off some junior water-right holders in the Tongue, Powder and
Little Powder rivers to provide drought relief for more senior
water-right holders in Montana.
The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said it hopes
it can reach an amicable settlement with Wyoming, but is prepared to
take action to protect water rights under a 1950 compact the two
states signed. It is the first time since the compact was signed that
Montana has made such a request.
"Failing the cooperative approach, Montana is prepared to
undertake whatever action we believe is in the best interests of our
citizens to protect our rights that are secured in the compact," Jack
Stults, administrator of the agency's water resources division, said
in a letter to Wyoming officials.
Harry LaBonde, Wyoming deputy state engineer, said the state
engineer's office is drafting a response to Stults, urging a
In the meantime, he said Wyoming has no plans to order changes in
how water rights in that state are handled.
"Quite frankly we need to get together with Montana officials
before we can really make a determination on which rights should be
satisfied and which rights will go out of priority,'' LaBonde said.
The Powder and Tongue rivers both originate in north-central
Wyoming and flow north into Montana, eventually dumping into the
Much of north-central Wyoming and south-central Montana currently
are classified as having "severe'' to "extreme'' drought.
The seniority of water rights along rivers 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 both signed the 1950 Yellowstone River Compact
to address management of water rights in both states. But Rich Moy,
chief of Montana's water management bureau, said only two pre-1950
water rights in Montana are being met.
LaBonde said Wyoming faces similar shortages.
"Of course we're in the throngs of about a fifth year of a drought
and there are pre-1950 water rights in Montana and Wyoming that are
not being satisfied,'' LaBonde said. "That is a function of the
Moy said this is the first time under that compact that Montana
has requested Wyoming cut off junior water rights holders until all
senior rights in Montana are met.
"One of our concerns is that Wyoming is taking and using water for
uses established after 1950 to the detriment of our uses that were
established prior to 1950,'' Moy said. "The economic implications for
us are very significant.''
LaBonde said he'll be working to get some data on which Wyoming
water rights are being met and which aren't.
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