Ranchers Strike Back at Stream Access

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Ranchers unhappy with the state’s stream access law are moving a bill through the Legislature that tinkers with irrigation ditch rules despite strong resistance from anglers.

The Republican majority in the House mustered up enough votes Wednesday to endorse the measure 55-44.

The bill opens up an issue decided by the Supreme Court in 2008 declaring that a Bitterroot Valley slough is a public waterway. House Bill 309 supporters say they need to make sure such irrigation ditches are not open to public access.

Opponents argue the bill could also apply to hundreds of miles of side channels and undoes much of the state’s stream access law. Sen. Kendall Van Dyk of Billings says he thinks a coalition in the Senate could stop the bill.

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