We’ve been working very hard to get the word out about the water compact to the general public, our legislators and county commissioners.
As part of that effort, we asked hydrologist Dr. Kate Vandemoer to review the compact documents, and share her thoughts with us. Kate’s spent 26 years working in Indian Country helping tribes secure and manage their water rights, so she is very knowledgeable and well credentialed in this area.
Upon reviewing the documents, Kate is as concerned as we are about what should have been a quantification of the tribal water right on the reservation, that instead has morphed into a massive taking of water rights throughout all of western Montana. Make no mistake, water rights are property rights that will impact the value of property, and a diminishment of those water rights will negatively impact future growth and development.
Since their original posting on the DNRC website in early October, many of the 1,100 pages and 39 appendices of documents have been added, changed, or removed. As of this writing, 4 appendices are still missing and not available for the public to see. Even the compact itself was 46 pages in October, became 51 pages in November. How can they expect the public to review and comment on changing documents, especially when they are written in difficult to understand legalese?
When talking about the compact, many people are overwhelmed by its complexities. Others have bought into the rosy picture the compact commission has painted for them, closing their minds after they are told their well will be protected. Even some very large irrigators in the area say they support the compact because they want to avoid litigation at all costs. This is too bad because it turns a deaf ear on those irrigators who understand they will have to curtail their operations, change their crops, or perhaps it will put them out of business. This is a grand example of the divide and conquer strategy at work, something the compact commission uses very effectively.
Can the public trust the compact commission, these so called “experts”, whose talking points always tell people this compact will be good, it will avoid litigation (we disagree), it will protect existing uses of water, and that the tribes have made major concessions? We have not identified any concessions the Tribes have made in this compact. It would seem that the State is the only party making concessions by conceding water rights throughout western Montana before they began to negotiate.
The constant threat of litigation has been used as a hammer by this commission to pound opposition into the ground, one, by one, by one. Remember they’ve been at this for 30 years, they are experts at stifling the debate discrediting any opposition.
The commission never tells you of a negative outcome or consequence of this compact. They never use the words closed basin, future economic development and growth, or even tell us how much water is on the table. After 10 plus years, they haven’t even gone through the trouble of looking at the economic and financial impact it will have, instead they hide behind something called a “categorical exclusion”. We think the public should expect that with something of this scope and magnitude, they would err on the side of caution instead of hiding behind a technicality. But then again, the commission’s leadership is an attorney, and this kind of gamesmanship is to be expected. It’s as though this politically appointed commission is playing a big chess game with the lives and properties of western Montanans, and don’t care to equate us to living and breathing human beings whose rights they willingly give away in order to pave the way for their own legacies.
We have developed a document to make it easy for people to see something is not right with this compact, and that it’s not even close to being ready for legislative review. It is 22 pages, but it designed so you can do the quick overview with the first 6 pages, and look further into details if you’d like in the rest of it.
The document also includes an appendix that attempts to determine how much water is included in this compact and how that compares to existing water and water rights claims in the basins affected. Please note this is not a fully completed analysis because many abstracts particularly for wetlands and high mountain lakes don’t even specify a quantity of water.
We hope it will give you some idea as to the magnitude of the compact. As a point of reference, the Wind River adjudication was litigated over many years and after all was said and done, the tribe was given 500,000 acre feet of water for their 2.2 million acre reservation, based upon a Practicably Irrigable Acres (PIA)standard. In the CSKT Compact, the Flathead Lake abstract alone is a time immemorial water right for 17-18 million acre feet!!!!!
It appears the state has conceded to the tribe enough water to fill Flathead Lake 3 times. Note: this is an annual number, not a one time allotment of water.
Please share this document with others……..and use it to inform yourself and others about this compact before it gets to the legislature in 2013