You are hereLegislative / Interim Updates / Water Policy / Comment on WPIC Draft Report & Proposed Legislation

Comment on WPIC Draft Report & Proposed Legislation

Posted Date: 
July 27, 2012
Tara DePuy, MACo JPIA Land Use Attorney

The Water Policy Interim Committee narrowed down the bill proposals.  Here is the outcome:

LC8011 (combination of both MBI bills) is moving forward for consideration at the WPIC September 10-11 meeting in Helena.  LC8011 changes subdivision law.  For subdivisions over 20 lots (amended by WPIC from 30 lots to 20 lots) with average lot size of less than 3 acres in “statutorily closed basins”, (see affected counties list below) there must be a public water well system and public sewer system approved by DEQ or the subdivider can seek an alternative to a public water system and public sewer system from the governing body after a public hearing.  LC8011 also changes water law.  For subdivisions in “statutorily closed basins” (see affected counties list below) each lot could have a well that could not exceed 10 gallons a minute or consume 1 acre foot per year.  According to DNRC handouts, this would allow about a half an acre of irrigated lawn depending on where you live and irrigation practices.   This only affects new subdivisions and would not affect existing subdivided lots, aliquot parcels or future lots created through subdivision exemptions such as family transfers.  However, the bill drafts references the definition of subdivision which includes subdivisions for lease or rent and rv/mobile home parks.  Thus, subdivisions for rent or lease and rv/mobile home parks in closed basins would also be limited to the 10 gpm/1 acre foot per year consumed.  The subdivider could also apply for a new ground well water right but in a closed basin the application must include a hydrogeologic study.  If the study shows a connection between surface and ground water, the subdivider will have to provide a mitigation plan or aquifer recharge plan.

LC8012 (senior water users) is moving forward to be considered at their September meeting with the amendment that it will only be in “statutorily closed basins”.    The affected counties are listed below.  LC8012 changes subdivision law.  Each subdivision is allowed 35 gpm/10 afy for the entire subdivision.  There can be more than one well, but the total cannot go over the 35 gpm/10 afy.  The subdivider must submit a request for DNRC for review to see if the subdivision will meet the limitations before submitting an application to the county.  The bill is silent as to enforcement of the limitations.  If the subdivider wants more the 35 gpm/10 afy they must either purchase a water right and change the use or submit a ground water right application for a public water well system to DNRC.   In a closed basin this means that with the application for the ground water right the subdivider must submit a hydrogeologic study.  If the study shows that there is a connection between surface and ground water, the subdivider will have to provide a mitigation plan or aquifer recharge plan.  The bill applies only to new subdivision applications and all subdivision exemptions can still use an exempt well, i.e. family transfer, boundary relocations, etc.

Counties Affected

Bitterroot Basin (Temporary Closure):

  • Ravalli
  • Missoula

Jefferson and Madison Basin:

  • Beaverhead
  • Madison             
  • Gallatin
  • Jefferson
  • Butte-Silver Bow

Upper Missouri Basin:

  • Gallatin
  • Broadwater
  • Cascade
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Teton
  • Flathead

Teton Basin:

  • Teton
  • Chouteau

Upper Clark Fork:

  • Granite
  • Powell 
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Missoula
  • Butte-Silver Bow
  • Anaconda-Deer Lodge

Contact Info for Tara DePuy


The Water Policy Interim Committee is completing its study mandated by the 2011 Legislature (HB 602) of water wells exempt from permitting. The committee is requesting public comment on three draft bills and its draft report that summarizes the work of the committee for the past 18 months. Links to the report and legislation are listed below. Detailed instructions on how to comment are included at the beginning of each file.

The Exemption: To change or not to change? (draft study report)

LC 8010 - Clarify taxation and ownership of river channel changed by avulsion (avulsion memo)

LC 8011 - Generally revise water supply laws for subdivisons

LC 8012 - Revise laws related to water use in subdivisions

If you have questions, please contact Joe Kolman at 444-3747 or