Legislation gives property owners chance to file claims on exempt water rights

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Following the passage of House Bill 110 by the 2017 Legislature, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is notifying all property owners in the state of their opportunity to file a claim for exempt water rights.

Not all property owners who receive a notification letter will find it necessary to respond.

“The conditions required for a water right owner to file a claim do not apply to everyone, but the legislation mandates that all landowners be notified by July 1, 2017,” department director John Tubbs said in a press release. “Ultimately this is a property right issue, and lawmakers determined it was important that everyone receive the information.”

An exempt water right is defined as a water right that was in existence before July 1 of 1973. Water rights in this time period were exempted from two previous mandatory claim-filing periods which took place in 1982 and 1996. Exempt water rights apply to livestock and individual domestic uses, based on in-stream flows or groundwater sources only. They do not include rights for irrigation, diverted stock water from ditches or reservoirs, commercial or municipal wells.

The filing period for exempt water right claims began on May 7 and ends June 30, 2019. Tubbs said it’s very important that exempt water right owners take advantage of this opportunity to file their claims.

“If you don’t file your claim, your water right will not be enforceable against any filed water rights, including water rights that are junior in priority,” Tubbs added. “Filing ensures protection for your water right.”

Step-by-step instructions for filing an exempt water right claim, along with FAQs and contact information, can be found by visiting dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/adjudication/hb-110-exempt-claim-filing.

Exempt water right claim forms are available at regional DNRC offices, the Montana Water Court, or online at the above address.

Landowners with questions about the filing process can call 406-444-0560 for assistance.

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