The two states get less than 12 inches of rainfall per year, so it's no surprise that this isn't the first time they've fought over water. For this reason, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal said he wasn't caught off-guard by the lawsuit.
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In 1950, the states came to an agreement formally known as the Yellowstone River Compact. This agreement gave Montana more rights to the water than Wyoming, and Montana is angry at Wyoming for overstepping its bounds.
"We're running out of water," Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer said in an interview with the Associated Press. "It's getting worse every year as Wyoming is using more and more water. [...] Our farmers and ranchers who depend on this water for irrigation are having difficulty raising their crops."
The previous agreement that the two states entered into more than 50 years ago stated that issues arising over water rights would go immediately to the Supreme Court.
While both Montana and Wyoming have been living with the effects of water deficiency for many years, Montana is now saying that it's worse in Montana than it is in Wyoming. However, folks in Wyoming disagree, saying that it's worse in Wyoming.
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"We will vigorously defend our water rights and our sovereign interests to control our own destiny," Freudenthal told the Associated Press.
While the whole thing seems sort of immature with all of the fingers pointing back and forth, the absence of water in the two states is actually a very big deal to both the residents and the states' agricultural businesses. Ranchers in the states rely on water to make the hay they use to feed their cattle.
However, it makes it somewhat hard to appreciate the importance of the issue and the need for the lawsuit when Montana Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton is going so far as to say that passengers aboard airplanes last summer would have noticed that Montana was brown while Wyoming was green.
In September of 2006, The New York Times reported that the two states were fighting over water quality. At that time, Montana was upset with Wyoming for not protecting the two rivers from coal bed methane producers. To create coal bed methane, producers must force water out of the coal to strip the gas away. This creates loads of contaminated water that is eventually dumped into the rivers, making the water unusable for ranchers who need it to water their fields. While ranchers swear that the water is packed full of sodium that will kill their crops, officials in Wyoming disagree, saying the water is perfectly fine. And the fight over water goes on and on.
It doesn't look like Montana's and Wyoming's issues will become water under the bridge any time soon.