The town of Manhattan, Montana has filed a lawsuit that is now sitting in the state supreme court that could reflect on all of the fast growing counties in energy country.
The town is asking the state high court to answer two questions:
First, they are asking if the existing water rights of cities and towns in Montana protect supplies for continuing municipal growth such that new homes and businesses may be integrated into the municipal utility owned by a city or town?
Secondly the town has asked if at the time the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation terminates an application to change on the grounds that the underlying appropriation is limited to the number of homes and businesses that existed on July 1, 1973, and, as a matter of law, may a district court sifting in review of that action dismiss an appeal based on an assessment that the town or city failed to prove how much water it owned for new homes and businesses after this date. In other words, can the state essentially limit how much a town can grow by limiting how much water it is allowed to use from what locations.
Especially significant in the case is that Manhattan did not seek DNRC ‘s permission to increase the flow rates or the volumes of water the Water Court decreed for the Town’s water rights. Instead they asked to keep the same amount of water but vary flows according to where the need is. Court documents filed by the town say “The Town simply applied for the right to pump the decreed volumes and flow rates of its water rights from any or all of its wells, and to use these decreed flow rates and decreed volumes anywhere within the jurisdictional boundaries of its planning authority in order to answer to the growth policy statute’s emphasis on planning infrastructure development for new homes and businesses.”
The town sought to change the point of diversion and place of use of their groundwater rights, all of which have priority dates prior to July 1, 1973, by incorporating all wells owned by Manhattan as alternate points of pumping for each of its water rights, and by designating the geographic area embraced within its growth plan as an authorized place of use of its water rights. The water rights allows the town to pull water from the Gallatin River.
The DNRC terminated the application process because the town did not have pumping records for exact hookup dates and use prior to July 1, 1973 – nearly forty years ago.
The Examiner will keep you apprised of the progress of this case as it proceeds through the supreme court.