Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Hoge

Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Hoge, 2016 MT 145 (June 14, 2016) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in denying Eldorado’s dissatisfied water user complaint.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Basin 41O, the Teton River Basin, is currently being adjudicated by the Water Court, which has issued a temporary preliminary decree. Eldorado is a water supply entity that distributes water to shareholders.  Eldorado owns four water rights decreed in Perry, which have historically been administered by a water commissioner appointed by the district court.

In November 2014, the Water Court issued an order addressing objections of several parties, including downstream water rights holders known as the Joint Objectors, to Eldorado’s water rights under the TPD. The order modified the TPD, concluding Eldorado’s water right claims included a cumulative annual amount of 15,000 acre-feet. Eldorado appealed and this Court affirmed. Eldorado, 2016 MT 94.

In July 2015, the Joint Objectors told water commissioner Ben Hoge that Eldorado was approaching 15,000 acre-feet and asked the commissioner to cap Eldorado’s water at that amount. Eldorado petitioned the Water Court to stay that part of its order pending appeal to this Court, and the Water Court denied the request. Hoge stopped delivering water to Eldorado at the end of August 2015.

Thereafter, Eldorado filed a dissatisfied water user complaint in the district court, pursuant to § 85-5-301, MCA, and sought an order directing the commissioner to deliver water as decreed in Perry. The Joint Objectors opposed Eldorado’s complaint.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court held a hearing in September 2015, and denied Eldorado’s complaint. Eldorado appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The only issue in a dissatisfied water user proceeding is whether the water commissioner is distributing water according to the applicable decree. Eldorado’s complaint challenged the volume quantification that was then pending on appeal, but also challenged the water commissioner’s distribution of Teton River water, and which water rights decree governs that distribution. Montana law distinguishes water adjudication from water distribution. Montana district courts only have jurisdiction to enforce final decrees or temporary preliminary decrees as issued and modified by the Water Court. The district court herein concluded it lacked jurisdiction to issue a stay based on its lack of authority to override a decision of the Water Court, and instructed the commissioner to distribute Eldorado’s water rights pursuant to the modified TPD.

Because the plain language of the statutes makes clear that a TPD is an enforceable decree, the modified TPD governing Eldorado’s water rights in Basin 41O supersedes the Perry decree until a final decree for the basin is issued. Moreover, Eldorado had adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard before the volumetric quantification was enforced.