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FEATURED PROFESSIONAL: Mark V. Corrao, Hydrologist

Montana Surface Water Rights

While looking at that stream running across the back of your property, or that big open space in your pasture that seems to be wet all year round, have you ever dreamed about irrigating your lawn, watering your horses or building a pond? There are a few things all landowners and businesses should know about surface water permitting in Montana before you let those dreams turn into plans. The surface water permitting process in Montana is made of three main parts: Physical availability, Legal availability, and Beneficial use. Without all of these parts and some background knowledge, the plans you might be on the verge of developing could put you in “hot water”, so-to-speak.

Physical availability means the source of water, your wet spot or creek, needs to have enough water to allow you to complete your project; for example, enough water to water the land or fill a horse trough or a pond.  Physical availability of water can be measured in streams that flow all year round more easily than ones that only flow in the spring, and can be even more difficult to measure for seeps and “wet spots”.

Legal availability comes into play after the determination that there is enough water for your project. Is anyone else already using the water you hope to use?  For example, if a stream has 12 inches of water in it and someone downstream is already using 6 inches, there is 12 inches physically available but only 6 inches are legally available.

Beneficial use. Because water within the State of Montana is considered state owned, the people of the State are entitled to apply for permitted use as long as the use they have planned is considered to be providing a benefit to the state. For example, irrigation, raising stock, or getting water to your house are generally accepted as beneficial uses.

Northwest Management, Inc. has extensive experience with water measurement; legal availability and specifically Montana surface water permitting and the application process for new water rights as well as changes to existing water rights.  So, next time you look across your pasture or walk through that wet spot on your property and start “dreaming” again, we can help you get the most for your time and effort. Just give us a call and we can assist with the details of statues, rules and the process for application of a new water right.

…Coming soon…. stock water rights and instream flow rights in Montana followed by Surface water rights in Idaho.

Mark Corrao is a graduate of Colorado State University with a Masters degree in Hydrology.  He has been employed with the State of Montana and Wyoming specializing in water rights.

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