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Reserved Water Rights
Compact Commission

Montana's Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission

Montana's Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission (RWRCC) was established by the Montana Legislature in 1979 as part of the state-wide general stream adjudication process (§85-2-701,MCA). The Compact Commission is composed of nine members. Four members are appointed by the Governor, two members are appointed by the President of the Senate, two members are appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one member is appointed by the Attorney General. Legal and historical research and technical analysis are prepared for the Commission by a multi-disciplinary staff of nine professional and technical members. The staff members include a staff director, two attorneys, an historical researcher, an agricultural engineer, two hydrologists, a soils scientist, and a digital geographer.

Montana Codes Annotated related to the Compact Commission

Federal Reserved Water Rights

The Commission is authorized to negotiate settlements with federal agencies and Indian tribes claiming federal reserved water rights within the State of Montana. A federal reserved water right is a right to use water implied from an act of Congress, a treaty, or an executive order establishing a tribal or federal reservation. The amount of water the reservation is entitled to depends on the purpose for which the land was reserved. In Montana, reserved water rights have been claimed for seven Indian reservations, for allotments for the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe, for national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, and for federally designated wild and scenic rivers.

The claims of the tribes and the federal agencies are suspended from adjudication in the Montana Water Court while they are being negotiated by the Compact Commission. Settlements negotiated by the Commission on behalf of the State of Montana are ratified by the Montana Legislature and the Tribal Councils and approved by the appropriate federal authorities. In some instances, approval by the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Interior are sufficient. In other cases, where federal authorization or federal appropriations are needed to implement provisions of the settlement, congressional approval is required.

By statute, the Legislature has prioritized the adjudication of water rights in the Milk River basin. There are three Indian reservations in that basin; Fort Belknap, Rocky Boys, and the Blackfeet Reservations, and two wildlife refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Public Involvement

Citizen participation is an essential element of each settlement negotiation. It ensures that the Commission's deliberations on behalf of Montana address the concerns of the public and incorporates local solutions to water use problems. Public meetings are held during the initial stages of negotiations and again when negotiations are nearing completion.

The Compact Commission is composed of nine appointed members:

Senator Debby Barrett Montana Senate
Senator Dick Barrett Montana Senate
Dorothy Bradley Governor
Mark DeBruyker Governor
Gene Etchart Governor
Richard Kirn Governor
Rep. Daniel Salomon Montana House of Representatives
Chris Tweeten, Chairman Montana Attorney General
Representative Kathleen Williams Montana House of Representatives


Dept. of Natural Resources & Conservation
1625 Eleventh Ave.
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 444-2074
Fax: (406) 444-2684