What We Do

DNRC staff attend to the State's obligations under 18 distinct water right compacts negotiated by the Reserved Water Right Compact Commission, a body authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Governor for settlement of Federal Reserved Water Right Claims on Indian Reservations and federal reserved lands. DNRC's Compact staff implements the compacts through a wide range of legal, technical, and administrative implementation duties. The State's compact obligations are described throughout MCA 85-20 and are also found within executive agreements between Compact Parties. Frequent implementation duties include: providing statutorily required quarterly and annual reports, participation on technical teams, water right and water management assistance to state-based water users and compact parties and administering the disbursement of State settlement funds. In addition, compact implementation work frequently requires resolving unanticipated technical and administrative issues related to large compact infrastructure developments and changed circumstances.

Are you looking for our CSKT-MT Compact page? Click here. For the Flathead Reservation Water Management Board (FRWMB) page, click here. For a shortcut to the FRWMB forms page, click here

Frequently Asked Compact Questions

The Reserved Water Rights doctrine, created over decades by the United States Supreme Court, dictates that when the United States sets aside a federal reserve (e.g., an Indian Reservation or National Forest), the simultaneous reservation of water sufficient to fulfill the reservation's purpose is implied and the priority date is the date of the reservation. See this webpage from the U.S. Dept. of Justice for more background.
Once the Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission reaches a settlement with a tribe or federal entity, the agreement must be passed in turn by 1) the Montana Legislature, 2) the tribal council or tribes associated with the reservation, if applicable (sometimes by tribal government representatives, sometimes by vote of enrolled members), 3) the Federal Government (Secretary of Interior or Agriculture, depending on the kind of compact), 4) and finally by the Montana Water Court as the agreement must go through the decree process created by the Montana Water Use Act.
Montana is unique in having created a special commission authorized to pro-actively negotiate with tribes and federal entities for the settlement of federal reserved water right claims within their state. Other states have either taken part in piecemeal negotiations or have settled their federal reserved water right claims through litigation, an often expensive and acrimonious route to reaching finality.

Montana's 18 Water Right Compacts

Federal Compacts

Tribal Compacts


Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission History

Construction of Sherburne Dam, ca. 1920. Courtesy Montana Historical Society

(Construction of Sherburne Dam, just outside Glacier National Park, ca. 1920. Photo courtesy Montana Historical Society. National Park Service-MT Compact, MCA 85-20-401, quantifies the reserved water rights for Glacier National Park and other reserves.)

The 1979 Montana Legislature established the Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission (RWRCC) as part of the state-wide general stream adjudication.The RWRCC’s mission was to negotiate settlements with Montana Indian Reservations (7) and federal agencies (11) claiming federal reserved water rights within Montana.

The RWRCC's mission was “to conclude compacts for the equitable division and apportionment of waters” between:

  • the State of Montana, its citizens and the several Indian tribes claiming reserved water rights within the state (MCA 85-2-701), and
  • the State, its citizens and the federal government claiming non-Indian reserved federal  water rights  within the state (MCA 85-2-703).

Recognizing many federal reserves have very senior priority dates, in negotiations, the RWRCC through various methods focused on protecting water rights under state law to the maximum extent possible.

Over decades of negotiations between 1979 and 2015, the Commission negotiated and saw the approval of 18 water right compacts by the Montana Legislature. Currently, with negotiations concluded, the Commission is not active and many commissioner terms have expired and have not been re-appointed. The DNRC Compact Implementation Program is tasked with implementing the State's commitments under these compacts. 




Visual Resources

Statewide Compacts Map


Montana Compacts StoryMap