Water rights training comes to Ennis

Water rights holders and landowners in Madison County will have an opportunity this month to learn more about water rights as three local conservation organizations have teamed up with the state to hold a training seminar in Ennis.

The seminar, “Water Rights: Understanding the History and the Future” will be held at the First Madison Valley Bank on April 19 starting at 9 a.m. People interested in attending should sign up by April 11, said Sunni Heikes-Knapton, Madison Watershed Coordinator.

The seminar is being sponsored by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation along with the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, the Madison Conservation District and the Madison River Foundation.

The training will be geared toward two audiences, Heikes-Knapton said, those who need to understand how water rights work and a bit about their history in Montana and those who are interested in the future of water rights.

In Montana, water rights are essentially based on the premise of “first in time, first in right,” she said. This essentially means that the oldest water rights are the most senior.

It also means that just because you may have a ditch running through your property, you don’t necessarily have access to the water.

The seminar will explain how Montana’s system of water rights developed and the logic behind it, Heikes-Knapton said.

However, water rights are changing too. Montana is going through an adjudication process to confirm old and new water rights claims, she said.

Also, a new practice has developed where water rights holders have been selling their rights on the open market for a variety of uses from irrigation to conservation. Some water rights have been selling for millions of dollars.

Add to this new federal regulations governing how people can work on the beds and banks of rivers and things can get confusing quickly, Heikes-Knapton said.

The goal of the training seminar is to give people an idea about water rights and introduce them to the people and agencies they’ll need to talk to for more information, she said.

To register for the training, call Janet Bender-Keigley at 994-6671 by April 11.

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