Montana Sues Wyoming Over Water Rights

Montana Sues Wyoming Over Water Rights

Montana sues Wyoming over water rights By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press Writer
Thu Feb 1, 1:18 PM ET

BILLINGS, Mont. - Montana sued Wyoming in the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday over water rights in two shared rivers, which Montana claims are running dry due to Wyoming's overuse.

The lawsuit over the Tongue and Powder rivers, which flow from northeastern Wyoming into southeastern Montana, marks a sharp escalation in an acrimonious water fight between the states.

The lawsuit alleges Wyoming is ignoring Montana's "senior" water rights by taking more water from the rivers than allowed under the 1950 Yellowstone River Compact. That includes water diverted and stored for irrigation and groundwater pumped from beneath the surface during coal-bed methane production.

"We're running out of water," said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. "It's getting worse every year as Wyoming is using more and more water. ... Our farmers and ranchers who depend on this water for irrigation are having difficulty raising their crops."

Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank rejected claims his state is taking too much water. "We believe Wyoming has correctly allocated water pursuant to the compact and will continue to do so into the future," he said.

The 1950 compact calls for disagreements to go straight to the Supreme Court for resolution.

Both states have suffered from a prolonged drought dating to 1999. Wyoming State Engineer Patrick Tyrell said that in recent years due to the drought, only a "small fraction" of Wyoming's water users in the Powder and Tongue river basins received the water they needed.

But Montana officials say their state is bearing the greater burden. Montana Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton said anyone flying over the border region last summer would have seen a sharp contrast: green on the Wyoming side, brown in Montana.

Montana officials could not quantify how much water they believe the state is owed.
The lawsuit also names North Dakota as a defendant, but only because that state also is part of the water compact. Montana officials said the lawsuit seeks no relief from North Dakota.

Montana officials said they were forced into Thursday's legal action by Wyoming's refusal to answer prior requests for more water from the rivers in 2004 and 2006.In December, Montana took its case to the three-member Yellowstone River Compact Commission. But Wyoming blocked Montana's resolution on the issue, prompting the state to sue.

Yellowstone River Compact 1950

These compacts made between states 50 plus years ago did not account for the affects of global climate change in regards to the economy and population growth. If a consensus cannot be agreed to, it might just be more amicable to rescind the compact and write a new one that meets the needs of the states more fairly taking into account 21st Century circumstances. However, looking at this from a moral standpoint, for Wyoming to have refused to give Montana more water when they are suffering through a drought just because of a piece of paper is in my view meanspirited. But then, that is what fighting over water does to people.