Montana Water Rights

Montana Water RightsEach individual state governs their own water resources, and water laws vary from state to state. Before buying property in Montana it is important to understand Montana Water Rights.

All water in Montana is owned by the State. A Montana Water Right allows you to legally use water in a prescribed manner, but not to own the water itself. Montana’s water law is based in the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation – First in Time, First in Right. Water rights are ranked according to the date on which the water was first put to beneficial use. Priority dates dictate the volume and distribution of water from wells, rivers, and streams. Landowners must put the water to beneficial use without waste to retain their right to use Montana’s water. Without diversion and beneficial use, there is no water right.

Water wells, developed springs, and large ponds all require a Montana Water Right. Ponds using less than 1/10th an acre foot of water, including water lost due to evaporation, are not required to have a water right in Gallatin County.

An acre foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons, so 1/10th an acre foot equals 32,585 gallons.

Water rights are property rights. They can be leased or sold. The Constitutions of the United States and Montana protect water right holders from being deprived of those rights without due process of law.

Water rights in Montana are basically broken down into two groups.

Water rights that were established prior to July 1,1973 are administered by the Adjudication Bureau.

Water rights that were established from July 1, 1973 through the present are administered by the New Appropriations Program.

Contact one of our agents if you have questions about Montana Water Rights. Our experienced agents will answer your questions, and can put you in touch with lawyers who specialize in Montana Water Rights.