This opinion piece was submitted by Scott Biggs  Here are links to the OPED piece and the Missoulian Article referenced in his letter.

Water Compact is not a Red versus White Issue.  Its a Green Issue in the Color of Money!

The Op-Ed submitted by two of the joint board commissioners (now in the minority) played the race card by sighting personal comments that may or may not have been made by some people standing around after a meeting.  The recording was illegally obtained and was not an official recording of anything.  Their effort is clearly a desperate attempt to cloud the issue and turn this important debate into a racially-charged conflict.  It has NOTHING to do with red versus white or any other color than green … the color of money!

The author of the Op-Ed wrongly characterizes the negotiated compact as: “conducted in a respectful, professional, cordial and consensus-based manner.”  It clearly was not or there would not be the pushback from the majority of voting water users in the areas concern.  They have attempted to force an agreement down the throats of the landowners that they wanted and that only benefited them.  It was not good for all.  And, that is why the voting turnout was so overwhelmingly against their proposal, and continued representation. Regardless, a few seats on the board were not up for reelection a few weeks ago and now those left are mad and desperate.

The joint control commissioners that are no longer in control are trying another end run to destroy the Joint Board by withdrawing their districts while they still have the control to do so.  They are attempting to justify their maneuver with more false information by claiming the water use agreement they cooked up was an, “… agreement that protected all existing water uses, including extra duty water deliveries and had huge financial benefits for irrigators…”  This is totally false information.

Under their proposal, those with the water rights would lose them without any consideration or compensation.  But on the other hand, a few special interest groups, mainly the tribal government, would gain several BILLIONS of dollars.  It is obviously all about the money!

If you want my water rights, don’t try to steal them.  Just buy them.   The billions offered by the federal government could have been shared equitably with landowners with current water rights to transfer those rights.  To do so would be as simple as a buy-sell agreement.  If those negotiating the agreement would have included everyone in their plan to get billions of dollars from the federal government, the agreement would have certainly had consensus.  At the very least, their plan could have allocated some of the billions of dollars to provide water conserving irrigation systems for all of the land in question, not just a few that would support their plan.

Another key failure in the proposed agreement was that it was not flexible.  It contained no provisions to evolve with the changes in crops, climate, or economics.  Their water use plans were based far too much on just one limited and somewhat amateurish study conducted by the University of Idaho.   Their plans ignored water use history and the existing water allocation system that has been working incredibly well for 120 years.

The 4 individuals and those behind the scenes use fear mongering over legal costs and protracted litigation as justification for their bad and unfair plan.  The truth is that there have been few legal battles between water users in these areas for over 100 years.  That is an amazing accomplishment by itself.  But now to sell their bad plan, they are trying to scream crisis, manufacture arbitrary action by the department of interior and bureau of Indian affairs (BIA), and force their plan down the throats of the landowners regardless of the law or their legal rights.

The judge, legislature, and landowners have all played fairly and according to the constitution, state laws, existing board of joint control bylaws, and legal oversight.   Now, a small group of special interests are attempting to circumvent the will of the vast majority of land-owning citizens in western Montana.  The group leading the charge for the special interest groups are distorting facts, circumventing the structure provide for fair and equal representation, and even resorting to playing the race card.  The whole thing is shameful, but it can be fixed.

The proposed water use agreement can be re-negotiated by fair-minded people that have the best interest of all at the forefront.  Regardless of what they will say about “time running out,” a new and far better agreement can be reached that will have the support of the vast majority of all concerned.  It can be fair to and for all.  That is the opportunity at hand.