The water laws of the West are simple in concept: the first one to use it gets it. But this doctrine of prior appropriation is not simple when it comes to real-world issues. Crops, farms, and friendships have been lost in disputes over water rights. Our primary goal is to help the parties to water rights conflicts reach mutually-agreeable settlements, but a strong secondary goal is to help preserve pre-existing relationships and friendships whenever that is possible.
Water rights disputes are nuanced and interesting because of complexities that include surface and ground water appropriations, direct flow and storage rights, and requirements of continuous use. But the subtleties do not end there, ground water isn’t always considered ground water. If ground water is hydrologically connected to surface flow, that ground water may be integrated into the surface water rights priority system; also, geothermal water may be treated differently than non-geothermal water, and so on. All of this complexity can lead to critically negotiations that combine geology, hydrology, and the legal system.
One sad thing about water rights disputes is that they can pit otherwise friendly neighbors against each other, or they may be a source of conflict between a local employer and community members. Mediation is particularly valuable in these settings because successful mediations can help preserve relationships. “Going to court” is adversarial... sitting down to work things out in mediation allows those in a dispute to creatively solve their problems out of court. Mediation is a process with confidentiality protected by law. Attorneys usually participate in the process.
Careful listening and studious attention to the issues allows the mediator to help craft mutually-acceptable agreements that satisfy the most fundamental needs and wants of each party. Complex mediations encompass far more than compromise. Success also involves careful preparation combined with creativity and a positive focus on the goal. Chris Hahn, Ph.D., MBA
About Water Rights Mediation in Montana: Montana law helps facilitate creative mediated outcomes. It states that “If an appropriator voluntarily ceases to use all or part of an appropriation right or voluntarily ceases to use an appropriation right according to its terms and conditions as a result of the efforts of a mediator appointed under this section, the appropriator may not be considered to have abandoned all or any portion of the appropriation right. MCA 85-5-110(6)”
About the mediator: Dr. Hahn's educational and professional training provides him with a technical foundation, competence in the process of investigating the root cause of conflicts, and interpersonal insight into human behaviors. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Geology, Master’s Degree in Business Administration, and Ph.D. in Human Services. He has gained direct experience with the complexity of water rights as an owner of surface and subsurface water rights and as the Manager of Mineral Lands for Homestake Mining Company’s exploration division.
His experience that spans nearly three decades includes direct involvement with land owners, corporate management, community groups, and governmental agencies. He always made every effort to use a balanced and fair approach when interacting with land owners and stakeholders. He is a senior member of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Association and a Certified Full Member of the Montana Mediation Association.