Montana Eager for Supreme Court to Hear Water Rights' Case

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said recently that the United States Solicitor General has recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court accept the state's water-rights case against Wyoming.

"This is good news," McGrath said. "This is an important step in getting Montana water users the water they're entitled to."

In February 2007, Montana sued Wyoming in an effort to enforce the provisions of the Yellowstone River Compact. Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota entered into the compact in December 1950, and the states’ legislatures ratified it. The U.S. Congress consented to the compact in October 1951.

Montana interprets the compact to allocate the waters that were in actual use in each state at the time of the compact. Wyoming, meantime, asserts that "pre-1950" rights are excluded from the compact.

"We contend that Wyoming has failed to comply with the deal we made more than 50 years ago," McGrath said. "That's what this fight is about."

In the brief, the solicitor recommended the U.S. Supreme Court resolve "threshold legal issues."

"The Compact itself is comprehensive. It includes all the water within the Yellowstone River Basin, as well as pre-1950 water rights," McGrath said.

Montana's original complaint asked the court to order Wyoming to deliver more water in the Tongue and Powder Rivers according to the compact and award the state of Montana damages, costs and other relief. It did not specify an amount.

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