The Montana Farm Bureau is pleased to learn that HB 286, the state land water bill, has become law. This is good news for Montana’s farmers and ranchers who use water on state lands. HB 286 clarifies that the state of Montana may only obtain an ownership interest in a water right or ground water development works (diverted from private land) if a court determines the state is an owner of that particular water right or if the state is in possession of a deed transferring ownership of the water right to the state. This is the same requirement that other water users have to meet.
“We especially want to thank Representative Alan Redfield for sponsoring this bill and working hard to ensure its passage,” said MFBF State Affairs Director Liv Stavick. “HB 286 was introduced in response to the Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) Trust Land Management Division claiming partial ownership of private water rights if water was used on state land – even if the well was on private land. This practice was done without any due process. Lessees simply received a notification in the mail from DNRC that the state was now a co-owner of their water right without any opportunity to comment or object to the change. HB 286 will halt this extreme violation of private property rights by providing due process and protection to the water rights of Montana’s farmers and ranchers. Farm Bureau wants to thank all of the legislators who voted to pass this bill in both the House and the Senate.”
Mark Silverstein, a ranch manager from Sweet Grass County whose operation will benefit from this new law, said, “First and foremost, this is a good day for Montana ranchers with state leases, as their private property/water rights will now be protected from DNRC overreach. The School Trust Fund will also benefit because ranchers can now feel secure in knowing that their water rights will not be jeopardized by developing private water sources for use on state land. The revenue from increased production on the lease land will result in more income for the fund. It seems to be a winning situation for almost everyone involved. It is important to recognize Representative Alan Redfield for his diligent effort in guiding HB 286 from its inception to it becoming a law.”