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.