LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Clarification on DNRC water rights

Many of you have recently received a letter and form from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation – Water Rights Division in regard to your water rights. The letter is to advise you of your opportunity to file a claim to preserve a water right for an “exempt” water use of two different types - a groundwater well or surface diversion that provides water for domestic (i.e. household) use, or a stock water use from a surface stream, pond or well.  We have received a number of calls asking for our advice on whether to file the claim (at a cost of $130) and what would occur if, for example, a person had a well but did not file the form.   The letter from the State was less than clear, so we decided it might be useful to offer the results of our research with legislative staff on these questions to all of you in an effort to help.

If you have a well on your property that was drilled prior to July 1, 1973 that you wish to protect, you should complete the form, pay the $130 fee and file according to the instructions.  You should attempt to gather all the information they seek in the form from former owners or neighbors in order to be able to provide evidence if your claim is ever challenged. Answers to frequently asked questions from the Department can be found here: dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/adjudication/hb-110-exempt-claim-filing. There is a video as well as answers to your questions. The video is the most helpful tool.  If you need to ask questions or get help from the department you can call them at (406) 444-0560. If you don’t file the form you will still have the right to use the well, but your use will lack legal protections that the filing would permit. 

Next, it is important to recognize that this form only deals with wells completed PRIOR to July 1, 1973. If your well was completed after July 1, 1973 you or the previous owner of the property should have filed paperwork with the state on the well at the time of completion.  You can verify that your post July 1, 1973 well filing is in order by examining the DNRC website: wrqs.dnrc.mt.gov/default.aspx. You will need the “Geo-code” for your property which you can find either on the recent notice of property reappraisal you were mailed by the Department of Revenue, or on the Park or Sweet Grass County website on the property tax page. If you can’t verify the status of your post 1973 well on the website you can file a form 602 Notice of Completion of an exempt well. That form requires a $125 fee and can be found at: dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/water-rights/docs/forms/602.pdf. The regional water rights staff can be contacted at (406) 247-4415 for Sweet Grass County and (406) 586-3136 for Park County.
If you only get water through the city municipal water system, don’t water stock from a stream, pond or well and don’t have a well that you use to supply water to your home or yard, you don’t need to take any action with respect to the forms that were mailed to you.  However, for those you who have water rights and may not be affected by this notice, it is always a good idea to go to the DNRC’s website and check your rights.  Many have found that their rights are not listed correctly and it is easier to fix them before the final decree comes out for review. 

We hope you find this information helpful.

Sincerely,

Nels Swandal, Alan Redfield and Laurie Bishop

 

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