U.S. Supreme Court Hands Montana a Victory in Water-Use Lawsuit with Wyoming

A Special Master appointed by the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Tuesday in State of Montana v. State of Wyoming that the state of Montana is entitled to specific declaration of its water compact rights, to recovery of damages in the form of water from the State of Wyoming, as well as that Montana has the right to fill the Tongue River Reservoir to the pre-1950 levels. The Court’s decision is the latest development in the nine year legal battle surrounding water use under the Yellowstone River Compact, passed by Congress in 1950.

The dispute originated out of concern by the state of Montana that the State of Wyoming did not recognize Montana’s water rights under the Yellowstone River Compact. Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court issued an order that recognizes Montana suffered damages as the result of Wyoming’s failure to abide by terms of the Yellowstone River Compact with respect to waters of the Tongue River.  Special Master Barton Thompson, appointed by the United States Supreme Court to preside over the case, ruled in 2014 that the State of Montana is entitled to protection of pre-1950 water rights, if the State of Wyoming was properly notified during lean water years.

“Today’s decision is a big win for the State of Montana and its water users,” said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. “I am pleased that the Special Master recognized the State of Montana’s right to assert its Compact rights, and has ruled that Montana is entitled to a specific judicial declaration of its rights.”

Either party can appeal the Special Master’s opinion to the full Court if they choose.

Click here to view the opinion.