Gov. Brian Schweitzer has suspended some normal procedures required of water rights owners before they divert water for irrigation or other uses.
“Flooding across Montana has altered river channels, damaged headgates and irrigation canals, and created emergency situations for some domestic water systems,” Schweitzer said in a release announcing his executive order suspending the procedures. “This order will speed up the recovery process by allowing folks to make repairs as quickly as possible.”
Flooding across the state has led to a presidential disaster declaration for counties and Indian reservations impacted by the high waters and storms, with more expected to be added as flooding continues.
Blaine, Hill and Chouteau counties and the Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations have been declared disaster areas. Officials are preparing for Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to start the disaster recovery process.
A meeting has been scheduled by the state Disaster and Emergency Services in Havre Tuesday to kick off that process.
Schweitzer’s executive order temporarily suspends normal requirements for water-rights holders to change their point of diversion to access water.
Mary Sexton, director of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said that while Schweitzer’s executive order is in effect, water rights owners who plan changes in their existing point of diversion need only notify their local DNRC water office.
“Folks just need to stop into their local DNRC Water Resources Division office and fill out a form to let us know where their temporary point of diversion will be,” Sexton said. “We can also give them information on how to obtain a permanent change if necessary.”
The Montana Water Use Act requires water right holders to submit a change application to the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation to alter points of diversion for irrigation or water-diversion structures on streams.
Schweitzer said that the time required for preparing, submitting and processing applications creates an added burden when many farmers are already struggling to repair infrastructure and get ready for irrigation season.