Determine if the current statutory structure for the post final decree administration and regulation of water rights is adequate to meet future water policy objectives.
Over the past ten years, questions have arisen about the future roles of the judiciary, water commissioners, and the Depart. As some basins in Montana near completion of the adjudication of pre-1973 existing water rights, there will be an increased focus and need for administration of all water rights on a source (i.e., existing rights, permits, certificates, water reservations, and compacted federal reserved water rights). Montana needs to clearly define the roles for administration of water rights to ensure a smooth transition to post-adjudication distribution, management, and enforcement roles.

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.


SB 72 Water Distribution & Administration After Adjudication

Senator Fitzpatrick - Bill Sponsor

 SB 72 Description

Currently, there are four Water Divisions, which are collectively known as the Water Court. As the Water Court begins to issue final decrees, water stakeholders have expressed concern about water administration and a desire to clarify the role of the judiciary. This legislation, developed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Comprehensive Water Review Stakeholder Group, provides continuity between water right adjudication and administration of the final decrees. Representing significant compromise between stakeholders in the working group, this legislation defines the roles of the Montana Water Court and District Courts, preserving the knowledge and expertise of the Water Court while also providing the opportunity for localized water distribution.

This legislation preserves processes that work well, and updates inefficient processes, to meet Montana’s future water challenges.

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Moving Forward with Final Decree Transition


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. The Water Resources Division will develop and vet with stakeholders a policy for prioritizing complaints and enforcement actions with respect to violations of the Water Use Act.
  2. The Water Resources Division will lead facilitated stakeholder conversations on the roles and responsibilities of water administration post final decree.
  3. Propose meaningful legislation.