Message from Boone Cole, Chairman of the Flathead Joint Board of Control, to Fee Land Irrigators concerning need for upcoming Referendum:
Historic changes are coming to Flathead irrigators. Whether they will result in a broadly supported water agreement or one that does not protect your property rights and is forced on you is the question. The majority of the FJBC is working to reach an agreement regarding Project water that you will support. It does not want litigation. But it is determined to reach a good agreement that protects irrigators’ property rights in land and water.
A minority of four out of twelve FJBC commissioners oppose this effort. So, they decided, essentially, the minority should control the majority! Without asking their constituents to vote, they decided to dismantle the FJBC, leaving irrigators divided and easily conquered, so they can adopt the flawed water use agreement described below.
Consequently, the majority of the FJBC will hold a referendum on the issue, which is really about whether the majority of the FJBC is handling the water rights negotiations in a manner you support or not. Based on many meetings and discussions over the summer, we think you do. Here is the background. –
In the last Legislature, there was a determined attempt to pass a Flathead Compact with an agreement, the Flathead Project Water Use Agreement (also called the WUA), that would have decided for you that the Tribes own the water you use for irrigation, and you would only have their permission to use some of their property. It would also have decided the maximum amount of water you can use, without verifying that this amount is at least similar to the amount you have historically received, as we have been assured. It would also have set up a special Water Management Board and a Unitary Management Ordinance that is different from the rest of the State of Montana. This proposed system for administering this right and all water uses on the Reservation bears some additional discussion to ensure that all water users have an equal right to a say in that administration.
The former FJBC majority supported this agreement, and the minority four who want to dismantle the FJBC want to adopt it for the Mission and Jocko Valley Irrigation Districts.
Since elections in May made a new majority responsible for the FJBC, we have been reviewing the Compact and Water Use Agreement with the goal of suggesting a few basic but important changes that could form the basis for a negotiated settlement and a Compact. The majority of the FJBC supports many aspects of the WUA and it clearly prefers an agreement to litigation. But any agreement must respect the legal rights of everyone.
After about a dozen public meetings this summer, here is what irrigators told us very clearly:
1. You’d like the ownership of the water right to the irrigation water delivered by the Project to be held by either fee land irrigators or the FJBC, with the United States, in trust for the fee land irrigators. Either way, irrigators must have a property right in that water.
2. You’d like to verify the assurances many have made that the amount of irrigation water would not be diminished.
3. You are concerned with the system proposed in the Compact for administering water uses, including irrigation water.
These are reasonable positions. So the majority of the FJBC recently voted to communicate them to the Tribes and the U.S., who are parties to the WUA, asking for further discussions regarding them. We also sent them to the Governor of Montana, on whose behalf the Compact Commission works, and the state Attorney General. These letters and other useful information are posted on the FJBC’s website at: flatheadjointboard.com.
The majority of the FJBC is attempting to continue discussions with the Tribes and the U.S. specifically so that we can reach an agreement. The majority is not in favor of litigation. But it also is not in favor of an agreement that does not protect irrigators. To be willing to accept essentially any agreement, without basic protections and without verifying the fundamental assertion that irrigation water would not be diminished would be irresponsible. Some advocate such a defeatist attitude, but the majority of the FJBC does not. We think you agree.
In the coming weeks, I will post a series of messages similar to this one stating facts about this issue. Please take the time to keep yourself informed. You will receive ballots concerning the Referendum in late October. They must be returned to the Lake County Elections Administrator by November 19. Please read them carefully, vote your ballots, and return them promptly.
Our motto: Ownership, Verification, Equal Participation.
Here are some photos of Revais Creek in Sanders County. They were taken earlier this month. The top photo shows the creek above the diversion, and the others are below the stream gauge at Highway 200.
As a point of reference, the water use agreement for the Flathead Irrigation Project (FIPWUA) requires a Minimum Enforceable Flow (MEF) of 3 Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) for the month of September. What science went into determining the 3 CFS, and exactly how does anyone expect the 3 CFS to be met?
Stay tuned for an upcoming article and analysis of this issue.
© 2013 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana
On Monday September 9th the Mission and Jocko districts of the Flathead Irrigation Project held special meetings to:
- Rescind their June withdrawal from the Joint Board of Control,
- Vote to withdraw a second time, and
- Assess administration charges to their districts.
To the casual observer, this all might sound a little confusing, so here are details along with a little history:
THE DISTRICTS VOTE TO RETAIN ATTORNEYS
On June 6, 2013, the Mission and Jocko districts of the Flathead Joint Board of Control held a special meeting to discuss hiring an attorney. At the Mission meeting Jerry Johnson said, “it’s not that we have to have one, but in case something comes up, we would like to have one on staff.”
Someone asked, what kind of budget are we anticipating to pay them? Johnson answered “well it’s 200 bucks per hour, the first month maybe $400-$600 to kinda go through the compact and all the stuff that’s went on the last two or three months. After that it will just be on a per call basis ….that’s my anticipation, and after that it might be one hour at once, two hours at once, depending on where it all goes to, you know what I mean?”
A member of the public asked if their per hour charges would be going up and they answered “NO, NO…..“
The statements made by two of the commissioners in the meeting were intended to give the public the impression that retaining these attorneys was merely common sense, a back up plan just in case the Joint Board attorney resigned in an upcoming meeting.
NOTE: the attorneys subsequently hired by these districts have worked for the CSKT in recent years. An ethics complaint has been filed against them. We are unaware of the status of the complaint at the time of this post.
JOCKO AND MISSION DISTRICTS VOTE TO GIVE 90 DAYS NOTICE TO WITHDRAW FROM THE JOINT BOARD
On June 14th the two districts held illegal meetings to withdraw from the JBC. They were illegal because the commissioners did not comply with Montana open meeting laws. As a result, the districts were forced to rescind their withdrawal action at their special meeting on September 9th. They then proceeded to take public comment and voted to withdraw from the Joint Board for a second time.
At the same meeting, the districts dropped a bombshell on irrigators of the Jocko and Mission Districts. They announced their “surplus funds” had been dwindling, and needed to be built back up to $200,000. July’s legal fees alone were $24,000. In order to build their funds back up, they were going to ask for administrative fees of $9.00 per acre compared to the $2.65 currently being charged, a 250% increase!!! This is on top of the project charge of $26.00 per acre for Operation and Maintenance (O&M). Irrigator protests that they could lose their homes fell on the deaf ears of the two commissioners in each of the districts who voted for the assessment.
NOTE: The whole purpose of these districts hiring attorneys and withdrawing from the joint board is to garner momentum for the water compact. Compact proponents and their supporters hope that passing the irrigator water use agreement for these two districts will give the appearance of strong irrigator support for the compact, which could be the impetus necessary for a special session. Unfortunately the reality is that these two districts combined only make up 16-17% of the total acreage serviced by the irrigation project, clearly not even close to being a majority of irrigators. Keep in mind the Joint Board is not responsible for these actions, it is four commissioners, unhappy with the results of the May election attempting to give 360,000 people in western Montana the current proposed compact through their endorsement of the irrigator water use agreement.
It would appear that compact proponents believe the ends justify the means, no matter what the collateral damage to their efforts might be. The sad truth is the water use agreement and the compact will in fact put irrigators out of business. The recent actions of these districts could very well be an attempt to accomplish that sooner rather than later.
Here’s an example of an elected official, chair of the Mission District, and what he had to say about the withdrawal:
Remember, this is an elected official, responsible to his constituents. This simple statement was very truthful, and is very telling of the attitudes of the men whose actions have served to do little more than divide the irrigation community. By ignoring the fact that 2/3 of the irrigators in the room opposed the district withdrawal, these men were clearly not interested in what their constituents wanted.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Attend Joint Board meetings to show your support for their efforts to find a meaningful and fair water use agreement for the project that does not relinquish irrigator water rights to the CSKT
- The Western Montana Water Users Association is currently asking irrigators in the Mission and Jocko districts to come in and sign a recall petition for each of the four men who participated in these events. Contact Shelia at 745-4250 or Carol at 745-4451 for more information about the recall.
- If you are an irrigator in the Mission or Jocko Districts, you might be able to pay your assessment under protest. Check with the county treasurer’s office to see what the process is to do that. Their number is 883-7221.
- Irrigators get involved NOW. Read the documents, ask questions and get off the fence. This is the most important battle we will ever face for our water and property rights. Talk to your commissioners, here is their contact information.
- Do not allow yourself to be confused by proponents arguments concerning litigation. While it is likely the CSKT will attempt to be adversarial and will challenge all water rights, an adjudication is nothing to fear and may be the only fair way to settle water rights of western Montana. This compact is not an equitable division of waters by any stretch of the imagination.
- Ask compact proponents why they are okay with relinquishing their own and their neighbor’s water rights to the CSKT. Article III of the Water Use Agreement says: This Agreement and the Compact specify the terms under which the United States and the FJBC agree to withdraw and cease prosecution or defense of all claims to water, whether arising under Federal or State law, held in their names and filed in the Montana General Stream Adjudication, and whatever permits and other rights to the use of water recognized under State law that are held in their names for use on lands served by the FIIP (Flathead Irrigation Project).