Water Rights in Montana

water reservation history

The 1973 Water Use Act made it possible for the State of Montana and the Federal government to reserve water for future consumptive uses or to maintain a minimum flow level or quality of water.  To reserve water, a qualified public body must apply to the Board and establish:

  • The purpose of the reservation;
  • The need for the reservation;
  • The amount of water necessary for the purpose of the reservation; and
  • That the reservation is in the public interest.

In 1978, the Board of Natural Resources and Conservation granted water reservations to fourteen Conservation Districts (CDs) in the Yellowstone River Basin.  Ten CDs were granted reservations in the Upper Missouri River Basin in 1992 and eleven CDs were given reservations in the Lower and Little Missouri River Basins.  McCone County holds water reservations on the Little and Lower Missouri River Basin.

At the end of the 2013 irrigation season, there were a total of 209 CD water reservation projects in the Yellowstone River Basin.  These projects put to us 94,860 acre-feet of water.

As of December 2013, CDs have issued 78 reserved water use authorizations in the Missouri River Basin, developing 32,661 acre-feet of water.

the purpose of the conservation district reservation

To reserve water for future agricultural development, as the demand for water increased both in state and out of state.  Demands continues for:

  • Coal Fire Generation Plants
  • Instream Flow Protection
  • Downstream Barge Traffic
  • Power Generation

priority dates

Yellowstone Basin Reservation Priority Date – December 15th 1978 at 16:18

Upper Missouri River Basin Priority Date – July 1st 1985 at 08:00 (applicatants above Fort Peck Dam)

Lower Missouri River Basin Priority Date – July 1st 1985 at 08:00 (applicants below Fort Peck Dam)

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