Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Water Court’s order regarding Danreuther Ranches Water Right Claims. Specifically, the court held (1) the Water Court did not err in its orders regarding Danreuther Claim Nos. 41O 156802-00, a right to water stock directly from the Teton River; 41O 156804-00, which represents a claim to the right to divert water from the Teton River for irrigation; and 41O 156805-00, a right to irrigate on certain property north of the Teton River; but (2) the Water Court erred in its orders regarding Danreuther Claim No. 41O 156804-00, the right to irrigate from the Teton River based on certain appropriations. View "Danreuther Ranches v. Farmers Cooperative Canal Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the water court’s denial of Scott Ranch LLC’s petition for adjudication of existing water rights appurtenant to Indian allotment lands it acquired that were previously held in trust by the United States for the benefit of a member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribe. After that member died and the lands were converted to fee status, Scott Ranch filed its petition. In denying the petition, the water court ruled that the lands were part of the Tribal Water Right established by the Crow Water Rights Compact and did not require a separate adjudication. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the water court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Scott Ranch’s claims and erroneously proceeded to address the merits of the petition. View "Scott Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Plaintiffs that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) by issuing a wastewater discharge permit for a “big box” retail merchandise store. DEQ appealed. Intervenors and current owners of the site (Landowners) joined the appeal and also appealed the district court’s summary judgment that MEPA requires DEQ to identify the owner or operator of the contemplated retail store. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court erred in concluding that DEQ violated MPEA, in contravention of Admin. R. M. 17.4.609(3)(d) and (e), by failing to further consider the environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the facility other than water quality impacts and impacts of the related construction of the required wastewater treatment system; and (2) the district court correctly concluded that DEQ must identify and disclose the actual contemplated owner or operator of the facility for which the applicant seeks the subject wastewater discharge permit. View "Bitterrooters for Planning, Inc. v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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This dispute involved two water rights claims filed by the City of Helena for the waters of Tenmile Creek, which passes through Rimini. Andy Skinner owned junior water rights on Tenmile Creek. Both Skinner and the Community of Rimini objected to Helena’s water right claims. On remand, the water judge adopted the Water Master’s finding that the City had abandoned 7.35 cubic feet per second (cfs) of its water rights claims but that the City did not intend to abandon the 7.35 cfs. The water court also found that the City abandoned 0.60 cfs in the Rimini Pipeline. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-227(4), as applied to the City’s water rights claim, is not impermissibly retroactive; (2) the water court did not err in reinstating 7.35 cfs of Helena’s Tenmile Creek water rights; (3) the water court erred in determining that the City had abandoned 0.60 cfs of its Tenmile Creek water rights; and (4) the water court did not err in imposing specific place of use restrictions on Helena’s decreed Tenmile Creek water rights. View "City of Helena v. Community of Rimini" on Justia Law

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In Montana’s ongoing water rights claims adjudication proceedings, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) filed six water right claims related to one natural pothole and five reservoirs. The water sources were located wholly or partially on federal land. The BLM claimed the right to use each source for stock watering by its grazing permittees and for wildlife. Certain objectors (Objectors) raised objections to each claim, arguing that the BLM did not perfect any water rights. The Water Master recommended summary judgment in favor of the BLM on each claim. The Water Court granted partial summary judgment to the BLM and remanded a portion of the pothole claim to the Master for further proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Water Court correctly found that the BLM properly perfected state law water rights in the reservoirs; and (2) The Water Court did not err in granting partial summary judgment on the pothole claim. View "Bureau of Land Management - Barthelmess" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Appellant’s objection to three water right claims owned by Granite County. Appellant objected to the County’s water right claims in proceedings before the Water Court, arguing that the 1906 decree in the case of Montana Water, Electric and Mining Co. v. Schuh required the County to release storage water to benefit downstream users. The Water Court rejected Appellant’s argument and granted summary judgment to Granite County. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Water Court did not err in its interpretation of the Schuh decree; and (2) the Water Court properly considered and applied the principles of claim preclusion relied upon by Appellant to limit Granite County’s arguments concerning application of the Schuh decree. View "Granite County Commissioners v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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Carbon County Resource Council and Northern Plains Resources Council (collectively, Resource Councils) challenged the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation’s (the Board) approval of well stimulation activities at an exploratory gas well in Carbon County. Specifically, Resource Councils claimed that the Board’s permitting process violated their constitutional right to meaningfully participate in government decisions. The district court concluded that Resource Councils’ constitutional challenge was not ripe for judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the Board. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Resource Councils’ claims are ripe for judicial review; but (2) the Board did not violate Resource Councils’ right to participate in its consideration of the permit at issue in this case. View "Carbon County Res. Council v. Bd. of Oil & Gas Conservation" on Justia Law

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The Water Use Act permits certain groundwater appropriations to be exempt from the permitting process. An exception to one exemption is when a “combined appropriation” from the same source by two or more wells or springs exceeds a certain amount per year. At issue in this case was the definition of the term “combined appropriation.” After an adverse ruling from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) hearing examiner, a group of senior water users (the Coalition) challenged the validity of Admin. R. M. 36.12.101(13), which states that the term “combined appropriation” means “groundwater developments that are physically manifold into the same system.” The district court invalidated Admin. R. M. 36.12.101(13), reinstated Admin. R. M. 36.12.101(7), which provided that “[g]roundwater developments need not be physically connected nor have a common distribution system to be considered a ‘combined appropriation’” and directed the DNRC to formulate a new administrative rule consistent with the court’s order. The Supreme Court affirmed, with the exception of the requirement that the DNRC initiate rulemaking, holding (1) the district court did not err by invalidating the newer administrative rule and reinstating the older rule; and (2) it was the DNRC’s decision whether to initiate rulemaking to change the reinstated rule. View "Clark Fork Coalition v. Montana Well Drillers Ass’n" on Justia Law

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This dispute involved multiple water right holders on the mainstream of the Teton River in Teton and Chouteau Counties. Teton Prairie owned property upstream from Appellees’ properties. Appellees held water rights for stock water purposes and for domestic use. Teton Prairie’s water rights were for irrigation and were junior to all of Appellees’ rights. Appellees filed suit against Teton Prairie, claiming wrongful interference of a water right and wrongful diversion of water by a junior water right holder, and requested injunctive relief. The district court granted summary judgment for Appellees, finding that Teton Prairie violated the prior appropriation doctrine by ignoring Appellees’ call for water. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) correctly applied the prior appropriation doctrine; (2) correctly found that Teton Prairie failed to establish the necessary elements to raise the defense of futile call doctrine; and (3) correctly granted injunctive relief to Appellees. View "Kelly v. Teton Prairie LLC" on Justia Law

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This case was the second segment of Water Court Case 41O-129. Case 41O-129A was limited to the issues involving the use of the Bateman Ditch. Here, the Supreme Court reviewed the parties’ appeals of the Water Court’s determination of the remaining aspects of the case, styled as Water Court Case 41O-129B. The Water Master issued a report with his findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding each of Eldorado Coop Canal Company’s four claimed water rights to water from the Teton River. The Montana Water Court entered an order amending and adopting the master’s report. Eldorado, the Lower Teton Joint Objectors (LTJO), and Teton Coop Reservoir Co. (TCRC) appealed the Water Court’s order. The Supreme Court affirmed the Water Court’s order regarding Case 41O-129B, holding that the Water Court’s factual findings produced the proper result, the Water Court did not err when it assigned one volume maximum for all four of Eldorado’s named rights, and the Water Court applied the appropriate standard of review to the Master’s factual findings. View "Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Teton Coop Reservoir Co" on Justia Law