Montana Water Court
Chief Water Judge Russell McElyea
Associate Water Judge Douglas Ritter
The 1979 Legislature created the Montana Water Court to expedite and facilitate the statewide adjudication of over 219,000 state law-based water rights (generally rights with a pre-July 1973 priority date) and Indian and Federal reserved water rights claims. The Water Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the adjudication of water rights claims.
The Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court appoints a Chief Water Judge and Associate Water Judge from a list of nominees submitted by the Judicial Nomination Commission. A division water judge is also designated for each of Montana's four major water divisions by a majority vote of a committee composed of the District Court Judge from each single-judge judicial district and the Chief District Judge from each multiple-judge judicial district, wholly or partly within each division. The Chief Water Judge appoints Special Masters, referred to as Water Masters, to assist the water judges.
The adjudication of Indian and Federal reserved water rights claims is suspended until July 1, 2013, while the State of Montana and federal and tribal authorities negotiate reserved water right compacts. Fifteen compacts have been negotiated and approved by the Montana Legislature.