The Water Policy Interim Committee plans to sift through public comment, as it finalizes its interim studies and weighs possible legislation for 2017. Discussions of the Black Butte mining project, the safety of Painted Rocks and Lake Como dams, the Mountain Water Co. eminent domain case, and the Yellowstone River whitefish kill are also on the agenda.
The committee begins its two-day meeting at 9 a.m. Aug. 29 in room 152 of the Capitol building. At their July meeting, the committee sought comments on three studies:
- Assuming dredge and fill permits, which explores Montana’s authority to assume 404 permitting now issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
- Study of Water Availability and Supply, which examines various water supply issues, such as the State Water Plan, DEQ water quality standards, exempt groundwater wells, water banking, and the city of Bozeman water future,
- Considerations for the future of water rights, which investigates many of the legal processes involving water right, including the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, district courts, and the Water Court. This study has been referred to as the Study of the Future of the Water Court.
In all, 49 comments were submitted regarding the reports and legislation. The committee website (leg.mt.gov/water) contains all reports, draft legislation, and public comments.
Accompanying the reports are several pieces of draft legislation. If approved by six of eight WPIC members, as per committee rules, a bill would advance to the 2017 Legislature.
For the Study of Water Availability and Supply, the WPIC will consider two bills related to exempt groundwater wells:
- Define combined appropriation as “physically connected”
- Define combined appropriation as the amount of water appropriated from an entire project
The bills are in response to an October 2014 district court ruling, which found the DNRC was misinterpreting state law.
The future of the Water Court report is accompanied by seven bills:
- Clarify water commissioner appointments
- Require education program for water commissioners
- Clarify definition of water right change and consumptive use
Allow limits on adverse effects analysis
- Approval of water rights permit or change under certain conditions
- Allow Water Court review of DNRC decisions
- Clarify process for updating water right transfer
In addition, the committee has four drafts not specifically related to a study:
- Statutory appropriation for the Ground Water Investigation Program
- Statutory appropriation for the Surface Water Assessment and Monitoring Program
- Create advisory council for the Surface Water Assessment and Monitoring Program
- Combine Clark Fork watershed groups
For more information on the committee’s agenda and other activities, visit the committee’s website or contact Jason Mohr, committee staff.
Committee Website: www.leg.mt.gov/water
Committee Staff: firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-444-1640