Attorney General’s Office Comments on Latest in Montana-Wyoming Water Case
Today, the Special Master appointed by the United States Supreme Court agreed that Wyoming violated the Yellowstone River Compact to deprive Montana of the full enjoyment of its water rights in the Tongue River. The decision found Wyoming liable for depriving Montana of water in 2004 and 2006, years in which severe drought conditions significantly harmed Montana farmers and ranchers along the Tongue River.
The Special Master also agreed that Montana operates the Tongue River Reservoir in a reasonable manner to safely manage winter storage to prevent down-stream icing and extreme run-off in the spring months. Montana is gratified that the professionals at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the farmers of the Tongue River Water Users Association have been recognized for their safe, effective and responsible management of the Tongue River Reservoir.
The Montana Attorney General’s office will review the full report of the Special Master, which runs to 350 pages and represents the culmination of 9 years of hard work, before providing a more detailed comment. For the moment, we consider this decision an important step to ensuring Montana irrigators will be able to enjoy their senior water rights on the Tongue River.
The U.S. Supreme Court will likely decide early next year what steps will come next in the litigation. Those steps could include an opportunity for Montana and Wyoming to file exceptions to the Special Master’s report and setting the case for oral argument before the court makes a final decision.