HB642: Bad for Trout, Bad for Irrigators

We need your help to protect Montana’s wild trout and coldwater fisheries from an egregious water bill that could dewater trout streams. Contact your state Representative and ask them to vote NO on House Bill 642 immediately! 

HB642 is an end-run around Montana water law and one of the most dangerous bill for Montana’s trout streams this session. Of the more than 2000 bills that have been floated at the Montana Legislature this session, this is the worst water related bill if you’re a trout, care about trout, or care about traditional water uses in Montana. Here are just a few of the issues with this bill:  

  • HB 642 allows developers to receive unpermitted water with no recourse for agricultural irrigators, state agencies, municipalities, and others with senior water rights, including for instream flows. HB642 permits developers or industrial water users to “stack” exempt wells (water wells that don’t require a water right) Wells could be clustered into one area, including in known stream depletion zones or areas adjacent to trout streams where the groundwater is directly connected to the stream flow. This could amount to hundreds of gallons per minute of water being sucked from groundwater tied directly to MT streams and rivers.  
  • State water managers would have no ability to deny these exempt wells, even if they know it would harm other water users and trout streams.  
  • There would be no ability for senior water users to make a call on these wells because they are exempt from our water law system. 
  • The bill would be impossible to administer and enforce by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Enforcement of water law is already lacking, and this bill creates an impossible system of exemptions for the agency to keep track of across the state. 

For a deeper dive into the legal aspects of this bill, check out our FAQ sheet here.  

These are just a few of the problems with this bad bill. The bill received broad opposition in its hearing on February 22nd – from agriculture to municipalities to power companies and conservation organizations. The bottom line is HB642 is bad for wild trout and traditional existing senior water users in Montana and could result in less cold water in our streams and rivers at a time when the demand for Montana’s water resources are increasing exponentially and persistent drought is rapidly decreasing the water supply in our state.  

You can help!  

HB 642 WILL BE VOTED ON THE WEEK OF MARCH 27, 2023 IN THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE! If you care about Montana’s wild trout streams and want to pass them on to the next generation, let your representative know that you strongly oppose HB642 today! 

To find your Representative’s contact information, click the TAKE ACTION button or HERE. Locate and then click on your place of residence on the map by using the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ symbols to zoom. Your representative’s contact info will be displayed in a pop-up dialog box. Please call or email them as soon as possible and tell them to protect Montana stream flows and wild trout. For sample language for your comment see below:  


Dear Representative,

As one of your constituents, I respectfully ask you to vote NO on HB642. This bill will have profoundly negative impacts for trout streams, instream flows, and water rights holders. It expands permit exemptions at a time when water is more precious than ever before. We need to safeguard our water for wildlife, agriculture, and recreation. Please vote no on this bill and help preserve our Montana heritage. 

Thank you,