HELENA — An administrator with the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says too many Montana property owners are ignoring the agency's request for more information, as it tries to settle water rights claims.
"Folks just aren't responding to letters requesting additional information about their water right claims," said Jack Stults, administrator of the department's Water Resources Division. "We've heard from folks that they've either thrown away their letter or are just ignoring the request because they believe they've done all they are required to do. And, in most cases, that's not true."
The 2005 Legislature stepped up the timetable for adjudicating all claims to existing water rights, and set fees to help pay for the work by the DNRC and the Water Court.
Stults said many people have paid their adjudication fee; however, there may be additional information needed to make sure claims are accurate.
"It's important for folks to remember that payment of your adjudication fee is neither a guarantee nor insurance that the water rights are accurate or enforceable," Stults said.
"If you receive a letter from the DNRC regarding your water rights, we encourage you to respond in a timely manner, and provide information to support your claim to water," he said. "Lack of response or delays could result in your water rights getting decreed with errors and possibly issues. This would cause you to have to address those issues in the more formal, time-consuming and costly court process."
Stults said most letters from the DNRC are asking for additional clarification or specific information about the use of the water right.
"The more information and clarity we can obtain with regard to these water rights claims prior to bringing them before the Montana Water Court, the faster a basin can be decreed and we can move on to the next basin," he said.
"Your water rights are too valuable to let someone else determine what they are," Stults said.