Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting

LITTLE ONES PLAYING IN THE DIRT  —  Conrad Christian School Preschoolers visited the Marias Greenhouse on Monday morning.  Owner, Lynn Knobel helped them transplant flowers.   I-O Photo by Chelsey Stubbs




Those were the words of county commissioner Joe Christiaens in reference to the outcome of a recent public meeting regarding water rights and a case against the Pondera County Canal and Reservoir Co., (PCC&RC) by Gene Curry of Valier.

In somewhat of an understatement, he added water law isn’t simple and there is nothing the commissioners can do or say.

The meeting of the canal company and its share holders was to go over what evolved from a dispute when Curry asked for more water to a ruling that took over three years for Water Master Hugh McFadden to come up with.

The Water Master concluded that both Curry and the PCC&RC were entitled to direct-flow right of up to 17 gallons per minute from the Ryan-Lauffer ditch.

The PCC&RC board of directors feels that the Water Master’s report is unfavorable to the company and the shareholders and limits their ability to store water.

Back in 1970, the Montana Water Use Act was passed. In part, the Act transferred record keeping to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DRNC).

McFadden found that the PCC&RC failed to file any change of use for the entities for 40 years since the Water Act came into being. In not following protocol in making changes over 40 years, McFadden recommended that all changes in water use enacted by the canal company since 1973 be invalidated.

At the meeting, it was noted that water use exchanges, transfers, sales and development in the county are now uncertain and there was no direct answer of what might develop.

PCC&RC board president Monty Johnson told the room full of people, “We don’t know what the time line is for the next level. We have the option to appeal to the Supreme Court.”

At the meeting, in part, Curry told the crowded room, “It was never my intent to cause damage; all I wanted was the water that was rightfully ours and had been used for over 100 years on the ranch.”

As for the City of Conrad, the Water Master found municipal water could be used within the city limits and at a one-mile radius outside the city limits.

Those beyond the one-mile limit and receiving city water would be “impacted.” What impacted means was not answered at the meeting.

It was noted at the meeting and in a letter to shareholders that McFadden’s’ report will not adversely affect PCC&RC’s ability to divert, store or deliver water for the current season, providing objectors or exceptions to the report are filed within 60 days.

At the meeting, an individual wanted to know what the cost of appealing was going to be. Johnson said, “We are reviewing the available options to remedy this decision and will spare no effort or resources to that end.”