© 2013 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

With all the news about the CSKT Compact, it’s important to step back a little and realize that the state of Montana is currently going through a general stream adjudication process, and has been for many years.

We came across this article (link below) when looking to find out more about what a general stream adjudication process is.  We wanted to understand what would be so bad about requiring the Tribes go through the adjudication process just like everyone else in Montana with a water right.

https://westernmtwaterrights.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/generalstreamadjudication.pdf

The state of Oklahoma prepared this document to help its residents understand why the state was forced into a general stream adjudication, and to explain the process to the general public so they are equipped to deal with a well funded and organized misinformation campaign by the Tribes.  We’ve excerpted this paragraph from it that we think western Montanans should see:

Keep in mind, the Tribes are attacking the adjudication process precisely because it allows every Oklahoman with a claim to the water to have a seat at the table when the Tribes’ rights are determined.  The Tribes don’t want that, and would rather have a federal court decide their rights without Oklahomans ever having their voice heard. That just isn’t right. The state adjudication process will give every Oklahoman with a water right the due process they deserve.

Now let’s talk Montana.  At every possible opportunity, the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, a politically appointed board, threatens the public with “litigation”.  During the recent series of public meetings the word litigation was used many, many times.  Threats of litigation amount to coercion, and as such, are very effective tools.  Tribal “negotiators” love to get on the same bandwagon.

Note that they don’t use the word adjudication, a less threatening word.  They have even gone as far as to say people will have to hire an attorney to defend their water rights.  They seem to want the public to feel backed into a corner, and present them with a false choice:  either you must accept the commission’s “crap sandwich”, consisting of the FIP Water Use Agreement, the Unitary Management Ordinance and the CSKT Water Compact, or you will have to hire an attorney and go through expensive and time consuming “litigation”.

So let’s ask this question.  If the commission is threatening the public with litigation, is it possible they don’t want a process that allows every Montanan with a claim to the water to have a seat at the table when the Tribe’s rights are determined?  We say that the answer to this question, is quite possibly YES.

When reading the Oklahoma document, and comparing it to what’s being fed to Montanans concerning the CSKT compact more questions than answers are raised.

Why isn’t the state of Montana proactively working to protect the water rights of all its citizens like Oklahoma appears to be doing?

Why is a politically appointed board, representing the state of Montana, threatening litigation to coerce citizens into accepting a compact that will result in a significant diminishment of their water rights?

How is it that a politically appointed board can empower itself enough to remove a segment of the state’s population (28,000 people living within the exterior boundaries of the reservation)  out from under state jurisdiction for the administration of their water rights through the Unitary Management Board? 

By what authority does the compact commission have the right to remove those 28,000 people from the protections of the laws and constitution of the state of Montana?

Has the compact commission outlived it’s usefulness, and are they acting outside the scope of their legislative mandate?

We think it’s quite possible the time has come to ALLOW THE COMPACT COMMISSION TO SUNSET and let the state adjudication process take over. This will take the substantial sums of settlement money off the table, and to a large extent will eliminate political influences from the equation.   We’d rather see the $55 million from the state of Montana promised in this compact be used to ensure the water rights of all Montanans, tribal and non-tribal be protected through the adjudication process.

This does not need to be adversarial, and an equitable and peaceful resolution can be worked out should the parties involved so choose.

Many will say you can’t trust the courts to do the right thing, and we could end up worse off than what’s in this compact.  Having gone through the documents, we think that’s highly unlikely.  The compact is a dream come true for Federal and Tribal governments, allowing them to assert control over 360,000 people, the economy and resources in western Montana.

Of course we are not lawyers, as many of the “negotiators” are, and lawyers seem to live for litigation.  This article is not intended to give legal advice, but rather attempts to bring a little common sense into the debate.

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