Bill aims to block DNRC from acquiring water rights from state land lessees

HELENA — The old Western adage that “whiskey’s for drinking, water is for fighting over” is repeated so often it’s almost become a cliché.

But water is always a hot topic in the Treasure State, and a classic Western water fight is playing out in the Legislature over a bill that would address who can lay claim to water diverted from private lands for use on state lands.

When property owners with water rights lease land from the state, specifically school trust lands, they can build pipes from their private wells or springs and use the water to irrigate crops or raise livestock on that land. Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation claims it owns a stake in the water that’s used on state lands, however, even after the water right holder’s lease expires. That has some lessees concerned.

Rep. Alan Redfield, a Republican and rancher from Livingston, is

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