YOUR BOOTS ON THE HILL: Water users given notice for extended authorization deadline
Montana Farm Bureau Federation
The 67th regular session of the Montana Legislature is more than two-thirds of the way through its process, and it’s starting to feel like we’re on the downhill slide to wrapping this session up. The deadline to transmit fiscal bills to the second chamber is looming, so we saw a hustle to get all final fiscal bills introduced and processed this week.
We continue to monitor the progress of House Bills 14 and House Bill 2, which include funding for major agricultural priorities including the Montana Agricultural Experiment Stations, a new Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and a new Wool Lab for the state. House Bill 14, which covers the long-ranch building bonding program needed for these major building projects, has now passed the House and will be heard in the Senate.
We continue to learn more and monitor House Bill 632: Implement receipt of and appropriate federal stimulus and COVID recovery funds, which is the $2.7 billion in funding allocated to Montana through the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Legislators are juggling the uses and needs of these funds with the fiscal plans already established in House Bills 14 and 2, working hard to understand which needs may be met by federal funding and what will still need allocated out of the state budget.
Two important water-related bills were on the top of our testifying priorities this week.
Senate Bill 390: Establish the Water Severance Beneficial Use Act, sponsored by Sen. Brad Molnar (R), SD 28. Montana Farm Bureau member policy opposes.
The Water Severance Beneficial Use Act proposes revisions to the state’s hydroelectric generation facility fees for the use of Montana’s waters. The bill notes that according to the Montana Constitution, all water in the state is the property of the state, and water used for the generation of energy is a beneficial use. Using those terms, the bill introduces the idea of a fee on the transmission of the energy generated from the water in hydro-electric plants, calculated in a similar manner as the coal gross proceeds tax imposed on coal that generates an equal amount of electricity. The bill proposes using this water tax for the benefit of Montana’s public schools.
This bill sets a dangerous precedent for how we look at beneficial use of water and therefore determine potential fees for water use. SB 390 doesn’t directly impact agriculture, but we see a slippery slope ahead and want to avoid unnecessary negative consequences for farmers and ranchers down the road. Water right holders certainly put water to beneficial use, and we do not believe that water in these terms should be taxed or allocated on a fee. Therefore, we’re opposing this bill with the long-term interests of all Montana’s water users in mind.
Senate Bill 302: Extend authorization deadline for use of navigable riverbed, sponsored by Sen. Walt Sales (R), SD 35. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports.
This is a fairly simple bill that extends the deadline to apply for written authorization to use the navigable riverbed. This is for individuals using the bed of a river below the low-water mark, which applies to all irrigation diversion structure owners in the state of Montana.
The original legislation concerning this topic was established in 2011, which noted that all persons using the bed of a navigable river below the low-water mark shall file for authorization for its use through the Department of Natural Resources in order to continue to use the riverbed.
The deadline for application was initially set for July 15, 2021, but very few people have applied in that time. This bill extends that application deadline to July 15, 2025, offering stakeholder organizations like Montana Farm Bureau and the DNRC time to give notice to water users to apply for the necessary authorization. Irrigation diversions structure owners can apply for a lease, license or easement to retain their use of the riverbed through the DNRC.
For more legislative updates and details on these issues, follow our Live with Your Lobbyist broadcast each Friday at noon on our Montana Farm Bureau Facebook Page.
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