BILLINGS, Mont. — In a letter sent on Feb. 5, Shad Sullivan, chair of the R-CALF USA Private Property Rights Committee, told Montana ranchers that right now may be their last opportunity to establish an enforceable claim for their water rights.

Sullivan is referring to the bill passed in the Montana Legislature, HB 110, that reopened the window for landowners and allotment owners to obtain enforceable water rights, provided claims are filed by June 30.

The letter points out that all Montana ranchers should have received a formal notice titled “Notice of Opportunity to File for Exempt Water Rights” from the Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC) informing them that they should file to claim their water rights by June 30 if they had not previously filed a claim that meets the new HB 110 requirements.

The new filing window created by HB 110 is for groundwater or surface water that was put into use prior to July 1, 1973 to water livestock and for domestic purposes.

The letter states that a possible consequence of not filing a claim by the deadline is that a rancher’s water rights may become subordinate to other rights filed prior to July 1, 1973, or filed by someone else during this currently reopened window.

The letter encourages ranchers to not wait until the last minute to try to complete the rather detailed claim forms available from the DNRC by Internet at http://dnrc.mt.gov/hb110 or by calling the DNRC at 406-444-0560 and asking about the HB 110 water rights claims.

Ranchers are also advised that if they are allotment owners, they may want to obtain proof of their preexisting water rights from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service when filing their claims with the DNRC.

Sullivan’s letter closes with this message to Montana ranchers: “Do not miss this opportunity to file a claim for your stockwater and domestic use water rights before the June 30, 2019 deadline.”

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