Oral argument: Jan. 10, 2011
Original Jurisdiction: On Motion of Montana Excepting the First Interim Report of the Special Master
DOCTRINE OF APPROPRIATION, BENEFICIAL USE, YELLOWSTONE RIVER COMPACT, WATER LAW
In a case that could impact water rights throughout the Yellowstone River system, Montana accused Wyoming of violating the Yellowstone River Compact by consuming water in excess of the amount allotted to it. A Special Master, appointed by the Supreme Court, concluded that Montana had asserted valid claims, but recommended that the Court deny Montana’s claim that Wyoming’s use of improved irrigation techniques violates the Compact, and further recommended that Montana show that it lacks an intrastate remedy before calling on Wyoming to adjust usage. Montana argues that the Compact’s stated purpose to prevent controversy is undermined if upstream appropriators can use more efficient irrigation methods to reduce return flows at the downstream appropriators’ expense, and the need to prove a lack of intrastate remedies places disproportionate burdens on Montana. In response, Wyoming contends that its usage does not conflict with any limits set forth in the Compact, and that public policy supports allowing appropriators to reap the benefits of increased efficiency, especially in dry western regions.