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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Ag producers say DNRC is taking their water rights


Ranchers and farmers who lease state lands are accusing the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation of taking their water rights. They say the agency is trying to take ownership of water and infrastructure they are using on leased property.

Jocelyn Galt-Cahill, a rancher in Broadwater County, shared her family’s experience diverting water they owned onto state lease land.

"DNRC tried to come and claim part of our private water rights. The only option we saw was to pull our infrastructure and end the use of water on that state lease."

Galt-Cahill spoke along with eleven other producers, asking the Land Board to intervene.

Revenue generated from leases on state trust lands helps fund public schools in Montana. The Land Board has authority over those leases and the agencies that manage those lands.

All Land Board members, including Gov. Greg Gianforte, expressed support for private property owners' rights.

"This might well be an area where additional oversight is required by the Land Board. There might be dispute when a private property right is involved, but I hear you loud and clear. We the state cannot be confiscating private property rights."

The Land Board ultimately decided to review a 2019 law associated with these water rights issues and discuss DNRC’s role in their next meeting in May.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
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