Water - We were able to help kill HB 561 (Fitzpatrick-R, Great Falls), an awful bill that codified loopholes for allowing developers to use unlimited "exempt wells" for subdivisions or fish ponds, without having to account for how these depletions might affect connected trout streams or senior water rights. On the other hand, SB 19 (Hamlett-D, Cascade) lives on. It is a similar bill, only slightly worse. It passed the Senate 26-24. Killing it or amending it in the House will continue to be a priority for us. SB 347 (Vincent-R, Libby), a poorly devised bill, would allow mining companies, such as those contemplating large new operations along the lower Clark Fork or in the Smith River drainage, to dewater large groundwater sources, without regard for the impacts it could have on connected trout streams. It passed the Senate, but with amendments that improve it. SB 337 (Hamlett-D, Cascade) also passed the Senate. It prevents TU from having standing to object to bogus and exaggerated water right claims during the state Water Court's adjudication of water rights - significantly diminishing a hard-fought right we won in a Montana Supreme Court decision two years ago.
Land use planning - A bevy of harmful bills affecting land use planning and zoning, including SB 23 (Rosendale-R, Glendive), SB 24 (Rosendale-R, Glendive), SB 41 (Buttrey-R, Great Falls) and SB 105 (Brown-R, Huntley), passed the Senate. Thankfully, SB 17 (Priest-R, Red Lodge) was tabled. It would have placed a constitutional initiative on the general ballot altering constitutional language affecting private property in a way that invited blizzards of lawsuits by landowners who object to reasonable regulations that protect water, air, fish or wildlife. A similarly radical bill with the same objective, SB 284 (Rosendale-R, Glendive) was also tabled. Also dead are SB 155 (Vincent-R, Libby) and SB 169 (Brenden-R, Scobey), which would have placed impediments before FWP when it wants to purchase important habitat.
Gravel Pits - The Senate shelved SB 229 (Hamlett-D, Cascade) and SB 234 (Peterson-R, Buffalo), which aimed to make it easier to build gravel pits, even if they were next to trout streams and private property. Some of the ideas they entailed live on in SB 332 (Tutvedt-R, Kalispell). Rural counties, especially those in the Bakken region are agitating to have easier access to gravel. The problem is the ideas in these bills can be harmful to populous areas and nearby streams.
Funding - Appropriation bills are still in a holding pattern or slowly working their way through committees. Concern over the fate of funding of the Future Fishery Improvement Program, which has funded millions of dollars of great habitat restoration over the last 17 years has not diminished. Ensuring this program is adequately funded will continue to be a priority for the second-half of the session. Also important are proposals we are supporting to improve funding for dealing with aquatic invasive species.
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