by Senator Verdell Jackson
Have you ever experienced a time when you couldn’t get water? If so, you know how difficult life can be without water. The issue of who gets water, and how much, is about to be decided in western Montana. And it will affect you much more than you think.
The Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission was established by the legislature for the specific purpose of, “Quantification, or the determination of the size of a federal reserved water right for the state adjudication process.” In other words, how much water does the Federal Reservation occupied by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe (CSKT) need to fulfill the specific purposes of that reservation?
The product of the water compact commission is now described in 1100 pages of legal documents, maps and abstracts that fail to answer that fundamental question. The commission has gone well beyond their authority and negotiated a settlement that will place non-Indian people under tribal jurisdiction, separate water rights from private property, and give senior water rights to all of western Montana’s major lakes and rivers to the tribe. In short this compact will negatively impact the property rights and values of all of western Montana.
Despite the fact that these extremely complicated documents are frequently changing and the public has had no chance to review the completed product, the Commission is forwarding this compact to the legislature for ratification.
To put it simply, this compact will likely make it impossible to obtain any new surface water rights and will restrict wells located close to surface water in western Montana along with limiting many existing water rights of irrigators. New home sites and large building projects may not get a viable amount of water.
This proposed compact is not fair and equitable as required by law. Since the Commission expires in July of 2013, I have had a bill drafted to extend the Commission so that the draft compact can be refocused on the water needs of the reservation.
Senator Jackson is from Flathead County and is on the Senate Natural Resource Committee.
Kalispell, MT 471-4168