GOT WATER? HOW ABOUT THE RIGHT TO USE IT?
The goal of this website is to provide a means for western Montanans to learn about the Flathead Reservation or Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Federal Reserved Water Compact negotiated between the state of Montana, the federal government and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.
This product of more than a decade of negotiations is a 1,500 page document that will impact everyone living in western Montana. Do not be complacent. Do not be fooled. It is not just a Flathead Indian Reservation issue.
This site was established as a means to communicate to people throughout western Montana, and should they so choose, to express their opinions, concerns, comments, and suggestions about the compact.
The compact failed in the 2013 Montana legislature after it was introduced late in the session. Since then the compact largely remained the same and as the compact commission chairman explained to the tribe during 2014 “re-negotiation” sessions, “not a drop of water changed.'” The involvement of Senator Chas Vincent in the 2015 legislative process maneuvered the compact through incomplete and biased studies in an effort to provide legislative support of the compact in 2015.
The compact was again introduced late in the 2015 session public review documents were not even made available until mid-January, two weeks after the session started. A group of republican senators and representatives worked with the governor’s office to change house rules to ensure the compact was ratified by the legislature in 2015. However late in the session the speaker of the house made a determination that immunity language in the compact made it necessary that the compact be ratified with a 2/3 vote in both houses. This determination was based upon Article II Section 18 of the Montana Constitution which says:
The state, counties, cities, towns and all other local governmental entities shall have no immunity from suit for injury to a person or property, except as may be specifically provided by law by a 2/3 vote of each house of the legislature.
The compact vote in the legislature is currently under litigation for this reason, however the governor has chosen to ignore the suit and the compact is being implemented as we speak.
The Reserved Water Rights Compact
The water compact was supposed to QUANTIFY the federal reserved water right for the Flathead Indian Reservation. Its current iteration was completed in January 2015 and consists of roughly 1,500 pages with the appendices and maps. Something striking about the compact is that it does not provide the quantification of the amount of water necessary to fulfill the purpose of the reservation. This was the very purpose of negotiations that took place over more than a decade.
The compact begins with an incorrect definition of the reservation that paves the way for the expansive taking of water within reservation boundaries: “all land within the exterior boundaries of the Indian Reservation established under the July 16, 1855 Treaty of Hellgate, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and including rights-of-way running through the Reservation.” This flawed premise ignores the private property of 80% of the reservation’s population that is non-Indian, and is used by the state as the foundational base upon which this compact is built. It is used to rationalize giving all water running through and under the reservation to the CSKT. Additionally the compact gives the federal government time immemorial water rights for every drop of water in Flathead Lake, transfers bare legal title for ALL of the the water in the Flathead Irrigation project to the CSKT, and concedes significant instream flows with various priority dates throughout 11 counties in western Montana in the Clark Fork and Kootenai River basins.
The compact commission has refused to do any impact studies on these documents to help the public and decision makers such as legislators understand its environmental, economic and legal impacts. In other words, they have not provided enough information for people to truly understand its implications.
Remember, for all intents and purposes this is a FOREVER DOCUMENT, and we only have one chance to get it right.
Flathead Irrigation Project (FIP)
The current iteration of this document gives bare legal title to 100% of the project water to the CSKT in spite of the fact that 90% of the lands served by the project are privately owned. To add insult to injury, irrigators water deliveries will be reduced by 40-70%, which is a recipe for the failure of agriculture in the valley.
The Unitary Management Ordinance
This document is included in the compact as an appendix. It forever banishes the state of Montana from administering water within the exterior boundaries of the reservation, and is the most egregious aspect of the compact. It proposes a Unitary Management Board that will determine how all water issues (state, federal and tribal) are managed within reservation boundaries. It also is a blatant violation of the equal protection clauses of the Montana and United States constitutions.
If approved, it will set a completely new precedent and will place 23,000 non-Indians living on the reservation under tribal jurisdiction for their water rights, and has far reaching implications in our country.
If you live within the reservation boundaries, it’s imperative that you understand this document and the impact it will have on existing and new uses of water going forward. Don’t let the state of Montana surrender your constitutional rights and protections concerning water rights to a political and likely tribal jurisdiction.
NOTE: DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK ON THIS COMPACT. TAKE NOTHING AT FACE VALUE. WE CERTAINLY DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS, BUT PROMISE TO DO OUR BEST TO PROVIDE YOU WITH INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE DIRECTION THIS IS HEADED.
The compact documents are available on the DNRC website for public viewing: http://dnrc.mt.gov/rwrcc/Compacts/CSKT/
WE STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO CONTACT THE COMMISSION WITH ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS YOU MIGHT HAVE CONCERNING THIS COMPACT. BE SURE TO ASK THEM FOR FACTS, NOT TALKING POINTS
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