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Golden Gate U. Envtl. L.J.


This article examines preliminary rulings by the Special Master in Montana v. Wyoming, a Supreme Court case posed to illuminate the water law rules applicable to coalbed methane groundwater withdrawals and to fashion a remedy that better hews to those rules.

Part I provides a brief background on the Yellowstone River Compact and the Montana v. Wyoming litigation. This part further explains the Special Master's analysis of the coalbed methane issue, as well as the Supreme Court's recent ruling on improved irrigation efficiency.

Part II then describes the magnitude of the coalbed methane groundwater pumping issues and asserts that the posture of the case provides a unique opportunity not only to set Powder River Basin coalbed methane development on the right course for Compact compliance, but also to more broadly right the course for how prior appropriation and coalbed methane development work together in the western states.

Part III discusses the steps that the Special Master (or parties in a settlement process) can take to design a comprehensive coalbed methane regulatory process that upholds the principles of prior appropriation. The articles concludes that the Yellowstone River Compact dispute cannot be fully resolved without a new regulatory process for coalbed methane development that prospectively addresses harms to water rights.

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