Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geography

Committee Chair

David Shively

Commitee Members

Gerald Mueller, Sarah Halvorson, Vicki Watson


municipalities, water rights, water use


University of Montana


In the semi-arid Inland Northwest, water is undoubtedly the most important natural resource. Western Montana’s Clark Fork River basin is no exception. As the population of western Montana continues to grow, the Clark Fork River basin below the Flathead Indian Reservation is largely in de facto closure to the establishment of new water rights. Communities face a great amount of uncertainty with respect to their ability to establish new water rights to accommodate future growth due to the de facto closure, along with the ongoing adjudication process and the inability for communities to grow into their claimed water rights established before July 1, 1973. It is therefore essential for communities, and water resources planners and managers, to know their legal and physical entitlements to water. This assessment of municipal water rights and systems in the Clark Fork River basin was conducted by ascertaining the volumes and maximum flows of each community’s water right, analyzing the volume of water used annually, and projecting future water consumption amounts for the next 20 years based on projected county population growth rates. Other information gathered includes water conservation measures, water-related infrastructure, and metering. Interviews of water system managers and operators were conducted to gauge their level of understanding of water resource issues and policies that might play a significant role in each community’s ability to provide water to its residents. It appears that while the vast majority of communities in the Clark Fork River basin will have sufficient water right amounts for the next 20 years, other communities, e.g., Seeley Lake, Hamilton, and Missoula are more likely to experience difficulties in meeting future population growth with their current rights. Some communities, e.g., Butte, Columbia Falls, Superior, and Thompson Falls, may be limited in using their water rights due to water quality issues, while others, e.g., Hamilton, Missoula, and Stevensville, will be limited due to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s rules regarding where water rights are able to be used.



© Copyright 2010 Jacob Daniel Petersen-Perlman