Now that the reserved water rights compact public meetings are nearly over with, we wanted to provide a brief update as to what’s coming up concerning water compact meetings, and to talk a little bit about the public meetings held recently.
THE PUBLIC REVIEW AND COMMENT DOCUMENTS
The compact commission has a set of public review and comments posted at the DNRC website: http://dnrc.mt.gov/rwrcc/Compacts/CSKT/Default.asp
As of this morning, the documents and appendices total about 1100 pages, but 4 appendices are still “missing”. We’d like you to know that since the commission posted the documents in early October, they have added, removed and changed many of them. How do they expect the public to review documents that are constantly changing?
The reason for the volume of documents is because the commission has decided to take a “new and improved” approach to quantifying the amount of water necessary to fulfill the purpose for which the reservation was created. Instead of telling the public how much water is being conceded to the tribes, they expect the public to figure it out for themselves using the abstracts and maps included in the appendices. Well we have figured it out to the best of our ability, and suffice it to say, the amounts of water on the table are truly mind boggling.
Additionally, the compact documents refer to the FIIP (Flathead Irrigation Project) Water Use Agreement, a document that has not been approved by the joint board of control as of this writing. If the compact commission chooses to send the compact to the legislature without the FIP agreement, we liken that to sending a blank check, or sending our representatives an incomplete bill to vote on. The FIIP agreement is significant because it will define water use for 80% of the consumptive use of water within reservation boundaries. We will talk more about the FIIP agreement below.
The constant flux of the documents, and the missing pieces, tells us these documents aren’t ready for PRIMETIME, and if the commission were truly doing their job, they’d be lobbying for an extension rather than pushing for a vote to move it forward to the legislature. Something of such import should be thorough and complete. These documents don’t even come close.
In our study of the documents associated with the proposed Compact, we learned that the Reserved Rights water commission is trying to improperly add to the compact off-reservation water rights that are not part of the Winters Doctrine federal reserved water rights on the reservation. In short, the Commission has exceeded its statutory authority.
The sheer magnitude of this compact and huge volume of water claimed should require the feds and the state to complete environmental and economic impact studies, so that everyone can fully understand it’s far reaching implications, however the commission believes this is not part of their due diligence because it is a legal “settlement”. We think the state should error on the side of caution and do the analysis anyway.
After 10 years or more of “negotiations”, the public should reasonably expect a complete set of documents, along with the analysis necessary to understand the impact it will have on local economies and property values. For example, will it close any of our basins, making future growth and development difficult, expensive or impossible? The commission isn’t saying, but this is vital information people need to know.
PUBLIC MEETINGS COMMENTARY
A representative of our group of concerned citizens attended and recorded all 13 public meetings held thusfar. The last meeting is scheduled in Eureka on Tuesday the 11th. What we observed in these meetings was the same ongoing effort of the commission to downplay the magnitude and consequences of this compact, and to repeat the threat of litigation (coercion) every opportunity that arose.
The commission consists of professionals who have been talking down opposition for thirty years, and in addition to having their talking points down pat, they know how to marginalize and stifle any dissention concerning their compact “works of art”.
We are glad to tell you that folks both on and off the reservation are starting to awaken to what is going on with this compact, and opposition to the public review documents is growing rapidly, like a brushfire.
We believe nothing was served through this series of meetings except the commission can say they took care of their responsibility to “notify the public”. Question: Why haven’t they sent out written notice to every water rights holder who will be impacted by this compact? Isn’t the information available in their database?
TIMELINE OF FUTURE COMPACT / JOINT BOARD MEETINGS
Tuesday Dec 11, 2012 11:00 a.m. Flathead Joint Board of Control Regular Meeting – Main Street St. Ignatius
Comments: This will be the last board meeting before the compact commission votes on the compact. It does not appear the board will vote on the FIIP agreement at this meeting, but it’s possible a special meeting will be called soon. We will provide notice of any special meetings when and if we become aware of them.
Wednesday Dec 19, 2012 10:00 a.m. Compact Commission Meeting – Location: Dept of Public Health & Human Services Auditorium – 111 North Sanders – Helena, MT – 59604
Comments: At this meeting, the commission will vote on moving each of the 3 compacts (Charles M Russell, Upper Missouri River Breaks and CSKT) forward to the legislature. NOTE: folks in the other areas of Montana where other federal reserved water rights are being “negotiated” are just as concerned about their rights as we are. We are not alone. Agenda link: http://dnrc.mt.gov/rwrcc/Meetings/2012/Full_Com_December_2012_Agenda.pdf
Since this document was introduced to the public in June, irrigators have become involved and vocal, because they understand that a one size fits all approach to water allocation is unworkable, and will have a detrimental impact on their businesses, the economic engine of our region. Many folks expected the “negotiators” would address these concerns in some manner, but the maximum 1.4 acre foot of water allocation still stands.
At the very first board meeting where the document was presented to the public, we were told the allocation was non-negotiable by the tribes, and believe that must be true because they have not wavered from it. Instead they use the talking point that irrigators can be more efficient, and openly state that many have no idea how much water they really use. In other words the farmers are too stupid to understand how much water is necessary to run their operations.
Additionally the relinquishment of water rights to the tribes, and the “mutual defense” clauses of the document are very troublesome. It’s stunning to think that if the joint board approves the FIP agreement, they will be required to defend the agreement against irrigator lawsuits. Quite a slight of hand, forcing the board designed to protect and for for the irrigators to have to fight them in court. Almost seems as though someone is playing a very bad joke on all of us.
We believe this document intended to put a target on the back of irrigators and has nothing to do with saving water for the fish, and more to do with harming agriculture and ranching in our community. If the farmers are put out of business, how long will it be before the rest of the economy shrivels up and dies?
The commission always says the tribes have made an major concession by agreeing to “protect existing uses of water”. This is true only if the state concedes that the tribes have the rights to all the water as their starting premise. We ask this simple question. Are existing uses of water for irrigators protected? Absolutely not.
It has been suggested that for something of this magnitude, the vote on this agreement be opened up to individual irrigators, to take the burden of this vote off of the shoulders of the 12 men on the board. This would serve to delay the process long enough to inform all irrigators about this issue, so they can have a say in the fate of their businesses. So far, this suggestion has fallen on deaf ears, and the litigation mantra is a key talking point and consideration of the board. Accept less than what you deserve or suffer the consequences of litigation.
We have been waiting until final documents were released to see if public comments were taken into consideration for the final compact. Unfortunately, what we have seen is a commission that tends to use those public comments to strengthen their position by “tweaking the documents”, changing terminology, in other words using the public’s comments to their favor, not ours.
We oppose the compact because we believe the documents on the table do not represent a fair and equitable division of waters as this “appointed commission” was mandated by the legislature to do. Instead, they come to the table using flawed assumptions that will, if this compact is ratified, turn much of western Montana waters over to the federal government to hold in trust for the tribes.
Please do your homework on this compact now. Contact us if you’d like to learn more, or want to get involved in opposing it.