Evaluate the coordination of water development, use, and protection to meet new demands in Montana.

Montana lacks comprehensive policies that effectively protect existing uses while meeting new demands.  Development is already constrained by existing demands and basin closures. These factors have also increased the complexity of permitting for new uses, and unintentionally increased the reliance on exceptions in section 85-2-306, MCA to avoid the permitting process and meet growth demands. This expanded use of permit exceptions which lack availability reviews and opportunities for public comment leads to overallocation of a finite resource and conflicts among water users. Montana needs to revise and modernize policies around mitigation of new uses, permit exception, and the water right permit and change processes to create regulatory certainty.

Working Group Results

Thank you to all Working Group Members and  the public for your engagement and dedication to the Final Decree Transition and Changes, Mitigation, and Exceptions Stakeholder Working Groups. These working groups began meeting inMarch 2022 and produced two pieces of Department-proposed legislation. The legislation demonstrates an understanding of each other’s perspectives and where there is common ground for the good of all Montanans as we consider the current and future state of water use in Montana.


HB 114 Permit and Change Process Overhaul

Representative Vinton - Bill Sponsor


HB 114 Description

Water stakeholders frequently remark that the water permit and change process through the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) Water Resources Division is not timely, transparent, streamlined, or consistent. A new permit can take several years to issue. Stakeholders have expressed that permitting inefficiencies increase costs and incentivize alternative avenues of water acquisition, including illegal water use. Responding to these concerns, the DNRC Comprehensive Water Review Stakeholder Working group recommended an overhaul to the permit and change process in this proposed legislation.

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Future Actions

There are no more scheduled meetings of these Working Groups this year; the working group has suspended further discussion until after the 2023 Legislative Session. 



The Plan

1.  WRD will work with a 3rd party facilitator to convene stakeholder groups to address the following issues:

  • Define what improvements are needed for the water right change and permit application processes;
  • Determine what statutes, regulations, and/or policies are needed to establish an effective mitigation and marketing framework; and
  • Evaluate the role of exempt wells to meet future demand.

2.  The recommendations from these efforts may lead to draft legislation for the 2023 legislative session.