BILLINGS, Mont. -- Montana sued Wyoming in the US Supreme Court yesterday over water rights in two shared rivers, which Montana contends are running dry because of Wyoming's overuse.
The lawsuit over the Tongue and Powder rivers, which flow from northeastern Wyoming into southeastern Montana, marks a sharp escalation in an acrimonious water fight between the states.
The lawsuit alleges that Wyoming is ignoring Montana's "senior" water rights by taking more water from the rivers than allowed under the 1950 Yellowstone River Compact. That includes water diverted and stored for irrigation and ground water pumped from beneath the surface during coal-bed methane production.
"We're running out of water," said Brian Schweitzer, Montana's governor. " Our farmers and ranchers who depend on this water for irrigation are having difficulty raising their crops."
Attorney General Pat Crank of Wyoming rejected assertions that his state is taking too much water. "We believe Wyoming has correctly allocated water pursuant to the compact ," he said.
The 1950 compact calls for disagreements to go straight to the Supreme Court for resolution.
Both states have suffered from a prolonged drought dating to 1999. Wyoming's state engineer, Patrick Tyrell, said that in recent years because of the drought, only a "small fraction" of Wyoming's water users in the Powder and Tongue river basins received the water they needed.