Water Information Center

Water Information Center

Water Issues General Advisory: Montana Water – An Overview

In Montana, Water Rights are the rights to the “use” and only the “USE” of water and not ownership of the actual water itself. Water Rights are private property rights and may, or may not, automatically transfer with land.

All water in Montana is believed to be the property of the State of Montana for the use of the people of Montana according to the State Constitution. Since most Water Rights are still awaiting the eventual completion of an exhaustive state-wide adjudication process, the actual ownership of “Water Rights” in Montana may not be known for many years to come. The transfer of a Water Right is ultimately recorded with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) in the State of Montana. This is normally accomplished through one of two methods: 1) by use of a Realty Transfer Certificate (RTC) signed by a Seller at closing and submitted to the Department of Revenue for forwarding to the DNRC, or 2) by direct submission of special transfer documents to the DNRC. In some circumstances, both may be necessary. The transfer of any Water Right may or may not guarantee the validity of that right until the adjudication process has been finally completed. The process of final formal adjudication has been in progress for several decades and may well take years or even decades more to produce “complete and finally adjudicated Water Rights”.

Disclosures and Recommendations

All parties are advised that claims to Water Rights in all Montana counties west of the Continental Divide have not been resolved with regard to International, US Federal, interstate, Tribal and in-state issues which have been pending for decades. Nor have they all received complete determinations from DNRC or final adjudications by the Montana Water Court. Until the full and final adjudication process is completed by the Montana Water Court, claims which are indicated as “transferred” in the DNRC Database may or may not ultimately be found to be valid, viable and/or legally transferrable. It is widely believed that these issues may not be completely resolved for decades to come.

All parties are further advised to personally conduct their own independent investigation and evaluations of all water related issues with the help of competent legal counsel.