Legislators brought forth House Bill 168 for approval this week with the hopes of finding a compromise between a recent judicial ruling and the subdivision developers caught in between a major policy shift.
This October, Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled that developers would have to acquire water rights for wells drawing from the same aquifer (read more about his ruling here). Before his ruling, subdivisions were allowed to drill an unlimited number of small, private wells without needing a water permit. The ruling closed a loophole that allowed these subdivisions to pull more water than some farms and ranches with senior water rights without paying anything additional. However, developers who had already applied for a subdivision permit or who had even drilled a few wells were left unsure if they would now have to abide by this new policy.
With passage of the new house bill, those who had already applied before the ruling would be treated under the same requirements they had been subject to beforehand. Developers who apply as of now will be subject to the new ruling.
The bill is unique in the fact that is has been approved by both real estate and agricultural groups—groups usually at odds when it comes to Montana water rights. No opponents spoke against the bill, although 4 other bills addressing the same issue are currently being drafted.
Hart Real Estate Solutions