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Legislation offers chance to file claims

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News from Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation

HELENA, Mont. – As part of its work to implement House Bill 110 (HB110), which was passed by the 65th Legislature, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) is notifying all property owners in the state of their opportunity to file a claim for their exempt water rights.

Not all property owners who receive a notification letter will find it necessary to respond, said DNRC Director John Tubbs.   

“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,” Tubbs said. “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 are for livestock and individual domestic uses based upon instream flows or groundwater sources only – they do not include rights for irrigation, diverted stock water from ditches or reservoirs, or commercial and municipal wells.

Under HB110, the filing period for exempt water right claims began on May 7 and will end on 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,” he said. “Filing ensures protection for your water right.”

Step-by-step instructions for filing an exempt water right claim, along with FAQs, contact information and more, is available on the DNRC web site at:

Exempt water right claim forms are available at any DNRC regional office, the Montana Water Court, or online at the web address above. The cost to file an exempt claim is $130 with a cap of $1,560 or 12 claims per water division. All claims beyond 12 for a single owner within a single water division have no additional filing fees.

Exempt water right owners who filed their claims prior to April 30, 1982, or during the late filing period that ended on June 30, 1996, do not need to update their claims.

Tubbs noted that some landowners may have previously filed a 627 form (Exempt Notice), titled “Notice of Water Right with the DNRC.” This notice is not a water right; it provided a means of ensuring that exempt water right owners who had not yet filed a claim received legal notices in accordance with other water users in their area.

“The 627 Exempt Notice form was for noticing purposes only and is not considered a valid water right,” said Tubbs. “If you filed this form, you should consider filing an exempt statement of claim at this time.”

DNRC has set up a call center to assist landowners with any questions they may have about the filing process. The number is 406-444-0560.

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