Montana: create a brand new intermediate appellate court just to hear water disputes, but use trial court judges to sit on it

How important in water in the western part of the U.S.? Mark Twain purportedly described this situation that “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” The issue remains contentious, so much so that Colorado and Montana retain separate trial courts (Water Courts) within the judiciary to handle certain water disputes. Now there’s a push in Montana to create a special intermediate appellate court as well.

SB 362 would create a separate Court of Water Appeals to hear cases involving water distribution rights under MCA 85-2-406 otherwise heard in the state’s general jurisdiction (District). This new court of record would be made up of the Chief Water Judge and Associate Water Judges, making them both trial judges and judges of an intermediate appellate court. Appeals in these matters would lie with the Supreme Court.

SB 362 was scheduled for a hearing yesterday before the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee.