PRESS RELEASE 05/22/14:   Attorney General’s Office Seeks to Intervene in Lawsuits Affecting the CSKT Water Compact

Today the State of Montana is asking the U.S. District Court in Missoula for permission to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). In February the CSKT filed suit in that court to prevent the Montana Water Court and the state’s Twentieth Judicial District Court from deciding several water rights claims on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The CSKT suit also sought a declaration that the water rights for the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project belong to the United States and not to local irrigation districts or irrigators.

In its proposed motion and supporting brief, the Attorney General’s Office will ask the court to dismiss the CSKT lawsuit, arguing that the Montana Water Court is the proper court to make a determination of the competing water claims and the ultimate ownership of the water rights associated with the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. The brief will be filed if the federal court accepts the state’s motion to intervene.

“Montana Water Court is the appropriate court for these matters to be heard and decided upon, but only after all parties have exhausted every effort to agree on a negotiated water compact,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “Bringing these claims to federal court is counterproductive and could derail efforts to reach a negotiated compact.”

On Tuesday, the Attorney General’s Office also filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs yesterday in cases in both the Montana Water Court and the Twentieth Judicial District Court that were brought by irrigation interests on the Flathead Indian Reservation relating to water rights claims filed by the former Flathead Joint Board of Control. The briefs ask the Water Court to avoid ruling on water rights until the CSKT Compact is complete, or the CSKT have filed their water right claims in the Water Court.

The Attorney General’s filings describe the State’s view that under Montana law, the Water Court – not the state district courts – has exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate water rights claims. The briefs also explain why it is critical for the state courts to avoid piecemeal rulings on water rights claims, which could jeopardize Montana courts’ jurisdiction over federal and tribal water rights.

Attorney General Fox expressed his hope that the overarching water issues be resolved by a mutually agreed upon compact between Montana and the CSKT rather than litigation.

“We are all Montanans, and we must work to settle this issue by coming together and discussing our shared interests and responsibilities as Montanans,” Fox said. “Ultimately, we need a compact that can pass the state legislature and Congress. I urge all of the stakeholders to spend the coming months focused on constructive, civil dialogue that is informed by facts and not inflamed by rhetoric or expensive litigation.”

Related documents:

Motion to intervene in federal court
Brief in support of motion to intervene in federal court
Proposed motion to dismiss in federal court (to be filed if motion to intervene is accepted)
Proposed brief in support of motion to dismiss in federal court (to be filed if motion to intervene is accepted)
Motion for leave to file amicus brief in Montana Water Court
Proposed amicus brief in Montana Water Court
Motion for leave to file amicus brief in the state 20th Judicial District Court
Proposed amicus brief in the state 20th Judicial District Court

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