Jan 13 2011
Hearing anew about the Yellowstone River water battle between Montana and Wyoming, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court appears to deliver their most critical questions to Montana – possibly offering a hint that Wyoming has an advantage in the long-running case.
As the New York Times reported, “A majority of the justices appeared skeptical over whether, under the Yellowstone River Compact signed by the two states, Montana had any right to stop Wyoming farmers from making more efficient use of water through modern irrigation techniques. Montana, which is downriver from Wyoming, claims that by using sprinkler irrigation, Wyoming farmers are using more water than is allowed from the Powder and Tongue rivers, both tributaries of the Yellowstone River.”
The battle has been ongoing for years.
The Yellowstone River Compact Commission notes that “The Yellowstone River Compact was ratified in 1950 and became effective in 1951. The Yellowstone River Compact Commission is a three member commission charged with apportioning the waters of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries. The Compact was entered into by Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming to: provide for an equitable division and apportionment of the waters of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries; encourage the beneficial development and use of the Basin’s waters, recognizing the great importance of water for irrigation that would arise from future projects or programs for the regulation, control,and use of water in the Yellowstone River Basin; further intergovernment cooperation and remove causes of controversy over distribution and use of water.”
Only Montana and Wyoming, however, are in dispute in the current case.
The case grows in considerable part out of an increase in irrigation water use by farmers in Wyoming. A special master appointed by the Supreme Court held that this did not violate the terms of the compact, but various interests in Montana disagreed. The tenor of the court hearing seemed to suggest a general agreement with the special master.