Update 02/09/2009: Good News. Friday’s committee hearing on SB314 has been canceled. Twice! We can only hope that Senator Laible has come to his senses and withdrawn this stupid bill.
Who says Montana Legislators don’t have a sense of humor. Senator Rick Laible (R) of Darby has introduced a bill (SB314) in the legislature to “Clarify definitions for stream access laws” and redefine the meaning of “Natural”. This bill is brought to you by the same folks who lost in the Montana Supreme Court last fall when Mitchell Slough was declared a natural waterway and open to public recreation. In case you can’t guess “Clarify” means, lock Montanan’s out of their legal access to their own streams. If they can’t do it by legal means, they’ll just find a legislator that they can buy persuade to do it in the Legislature. The bill wants to redefine what a stream is.
The bill basically says that if irrigation water is diverted from a stream, that stream is no longer natural and not subject to Montana’s stream access laws. This law of course, would apply to hundreds of miles of streams around the state and allow landowners to lock out fishermen and boaters by declaring their private stretch of heaven un-natural. Think about it. How many streams in the state do you know that don’t have irrigation diversions? These streams have already been declared open to public recreation several times by law. The bill is meant to undermine the Supreme Court and Attorney General decisions guaranteeing you stream access. All you have to do is pull a bit of water out of the river, run it across your peach orchard and you have that stream locked up. No public access. Sound silly? Well of course, that’s what the Legislature is all about.
The bill not only would lock the public out of hundreds of miles of Montana streams, it would actually give incentive to landowners to dewater or completely dry up streams crossing their property in order to restrict access to water that is OWNED by the citizens of Montana. Call or write Senator Laible or your local senator today. Tell them to drop this one like a hot potato. The bill goes before the Senate Natural Resources committee next Friday. Let the members of the committee know that you are not happy that, once again, the moneyed interests are trying to make your public waters their private playground.
You can call 406-444-4800 to leave a message for legislators or you can use the Legislature Contact Form. Contact Senator Laible at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Natural Resources committee members. PLEASE, don’t let this one slip through.