Water rights must be filed before end of June

Thursday, May 16, 2019
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The final deadline is near to file your water rights to declare your priority of usage.

By Eleanor Guerrero

CCN Senior Reporter


Some people in Carbon County have received water rights notices and put them aside. They were sent out months ago and there was plenty of time to look into it. “I’m not sure what it says, “ said one woman. “But I do recall it had a deadline of June 30. Could you look into it?” she asked. 

We did. According to Mary Broach, Compliance Officer of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), the water rights pertain to those existing before 1973.

For example, if you are an old homestead that never filed your water rights usage, you could lose your priority if you don’t file now. This would apply to stock and domestic use as well. 

 Some purchasers in subdivisions got the forms at closing from their title companies to be filed later with a copy of the recorded deed. Others may have not heard about it at all. In case you didn’t do so, or can’t recall, you might want to double check your paperwork. 

Regional Manager Mark Elison of the DNRC made it crystal clear that homesteads and other landowners that are not filed could lose the priority of their water use if challenged by anyone upstream who has filed. Elison said, “They’d remain exempt as always have been, if they’re using a well or livestock (watered) direct from source. The few things that are exempt they continue to be exempt. They’re not required to file on those to use them. However, those rights would become junior to all current and future water uses that are filed.” 

He said a water right that shows active at the DNRC site is a priority filed. 

The crucial thing for the public to be aware of is that the deadline to file for any priority is final according to Elison. “If they do not get a priority date (filed) before June 30, they cannot file it unless legislature extends the deadline or reopens it.”

To see if your water right is active check: http://wrqs.dnrc.mt.gov/default.aspx with your name (last name first) or geocode number. But don’t just rely on that; water rights are complicated. Feel free to call and ask questions from the offices in charge. This article solely provides resources. 

This omission to file often applies to old homestead rights. Land patents can be viewed at   https://glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx.  Keep trying if the site doesn’t work the first time as we did. 

Broach noted that failure to file doesn’t keep you from using your water rights, but it affects the priority of your water rights. “It’s not required (to file). You are subordinated to other filed rights. You could continue to use them unless challenged.” 

Once you file there is a review by DNRC and an adjudication of its exempt claim status. Brandy Bray (DNRC) can assist in providing information about homesteads (247-4426).

For forms see: DNRC forms at dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/water-rights, go to HB110 exempt claims filing form. Remember, there is that June 30 deadline. “That’s (the date for the filled out form) to be received, not postmarked,” noted Broach. The local office for Carbon County information is the Billings DNRC at (406) 247-4415.