85-20-501 MCA

A water rights compact with the BLM for both the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic River and Bear Trap Canyon Public Recreation Site on the Madison River was ratified by the Montana Legislature and signed by Gov. Marc Racicot in 1997. This compact quantifies an instream flow right on the Missouri River for a 149 mile stretch from Fort Benton to the Fred Robinson Bridge and an instream flow right on the Madison River over the Bear Trap Canyon Public Recreation Site. In May 2011, the Montana Water Court issued a final decree for the BLM-Montana Compact (Case # WC-2008-10).

Compact Summary

This Compact passed the Montana legislature in 1997 and was signed by federal officials on September 10, 1997. Mont. Code Ann. § 85-20-501 (2007). The Montana Water Court issued their approval in May 2011.

1. Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River

Designated by Congress as a component of the Wild and Scenic River System on October 12, 1976, the designation includes 149 miles of the Missouri River corridor from Fort Benton downstream to Fred Robinson Bridge.

The RWRCC and the BLM were unable to agree on primary purposes for quantification of the reserved water right, but agreed that when Congress designated the Wild and Scenic River it anticipated that future State development would occur. Therefore, the Compact:
  • Sets aside a large volume of water by month to meet future State demands. This volume is sufficient to irrigate approximately 100,000 acres of new direct-flow full-service irrigation and municipal and industrial needs plus approximately 500,000 acre-feet of new storage. Domestic, small groundwater, non-consumptive, supplemental, lawn and garden, instream stock uses, late claims, and other federal and Indian reserved water rights are not counted against the State’s available water supply. Once the State has exhausted the available water supply, the basin above the downstream boundary of the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River will be closed to new appropriations for that month. The reserved water right for instream flow is limited to the water left after the State’s future development.
  • Protects all existing water rights, permits and water reservations.
  • Forbids new impoundments on the mainstem Missouri River without U.S. consent.
  • Establishes that the BLM will not have standing to object to new appropriations or changes in appropriation.
  • Establishes that no appropriations will have terms, conditions, or limitations as result of this agreement.
  • Establishes that BLM cannot make a call on the Missouri River to require junior users to let water pass

2. Bear Trap Canyon Public Recreation Site.

  • This reserve was set aside by the Secretary of the Interior on June 9, 1971, pursuant to authority granted by Presidential Executive Order. The public recreation site is located in the Madison River corridor directly below Ennis Lake.
  • The reserved water right is for 1,100 cfs year-round for instream flow with a June 9, 1971 priority date.
    Montana Power Company’s successor PPL Montana operates Madison Dam at Ennis Lake and is required by licensing agreement to make a minimum release of 1,100 cfs.


Compact Appendices