© 2014 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana
NOTE: Since this post was published, we have learned that it was not Mr. Salomon who initiated a dialog with the joint board of control. A meeting was initiated as this post discusses, however the request for the meeting apparently did not come from Mr. Salomon. There seems to be much confusion still about who the party that initiated the original meeting is.
Faced with potential criticism for leaving irrigators out of the water compact equation, compact commission member Dan Salomon last week quietly met with one individual connected to the joint board of control agreeing to a meeting to discuss “negotiations”.
The divide and conquer strategy is rearing its very ugly head, and the commission’s legacy of highly criticized private behind the scenes meetings continues. New Mission District Commissioner Gene Posivio stated the following in a message sent out Monday to his constituents and the public:
“A closed meeting with Dan Salomon and Chris Tweeten and select members of the FJBC will be held this Wednesday June 25th. As there was no vote on holding this meeting, it must be informal. One of my goals for this meeting is to set ground rules for negotiations.” (Note: this meeting has now been cancelled)
This is only one commissioner out of twelve. Who are the “selected members” and where do the others stand? Are they really willing to reestablish negotiations with an active lawsuit filed against them by the tribe?
SAME OLD STORY
Mr. Salomon’s commented that the Unitary Management Ordinance was probably non-negotiable for the tribe. It is important to keep in mind that the ordinance impacts all uses of water on the reservation, not just irrigation. Irrigators should stand firm and not back off of their position that the UMO is unacceptable to them, as it should be to everyone. (Note: Again it is reported that Mr. Salomon did not initiate the meeting, but instead conveyed what the tribe’s position concerning the UMO has been).
The “ordinance” doesn’t only affect irrigators, and is a blatant violation of the equal protection afforded to all citizens in the United States and Montana Constitutions. The UMO is specifically designed to remove 28,000 Montanan’s from the protection of the state of Montana for their water needs and to place them under a politically appointed board that will essentially serve a tribal political agenda. Given complete control over all the water on the reservation, there will be no growth and development on the reservation without tribal “approval”.
Salomon also indicated that irrigators only have the “right to receive water” and not a “water right”. At least on the surface it would seem that the tribe’s ownership of the project water right may also be “non-negotiable”.
So that leaves only one item remaining from the irrigators list of three issues developed last year: How much water the tribe might agree to “mete out” to irrigators. So once again, the public will be focused on how much water irrigators need, and not the real issue, the quantified federal reserved water right for the Flathead Indian Reservation.
WILL IRRIGATORS FALL FOR THE QUANTIFICATION TRAP?
Concerned Citizens has called the irrigator water use agreement a “red herring” because it was intentionally designed to take everyone’s focus away from the tribe being required to quantify their water needs. As of the writing of this article, the quantification of the tribe’s federal reserved water right has not been provided to the public.
Far too many irrigators still want to debate how much water they need, not understanding that the debate should instead be about identifying how much water the tribe needs for the purpose of the reservation.
A water use agreement became necessary only after the old joint board of control agreed to relinquish their project water rights to the tribe. With no water rights to speak of, irrigators then had to be “protected” from the theft of their irrigation project water by agreeing to an allotment of water from the tribes. In our book giving up valuable water rights in exchange for less water, possible improvements to the project, and a priority date that you already had before you started negotiations is not a deal worth writing home about.
The compact commission and the tribe blew it when they overreached and allowed for a one size fits all allotment of water that would put many irrigators out of business, some much sooner than others. Had the tribe been more generous in its offer of 1.4 (really 1.1) acre feet per acre, the agreement might have passed without anyone being the wiser. Instead of generously offering historic use of water, the tribe chose to take all the water, agreeing to mete about 10% of it back to irrigators. A whopping 90% of irrigation project water would remain for fish with a time immemorial water right. In their distain for irrigation and desire to “own” the project, people were given a glimpse into the real agenda of the tribe, and realized very quickly the negative impact the agreement could have on their agriculture businesses.
At the May Water Policy Interim Committee meeting, Rhonda Swaney stated that the tribe is not interested in changing anything about the Water Use Agreement. Instead she indicated they planned to work with their federal partners and the state to incorporate the agreement into the compact exactly as it is currently written.
The tribe’s recent lawsuit expressly states their believe that they own all the land and water on the reservation. With an active lawsuit in play, one has to wonder why any commissioner in their right mind would consider discussing a water use agreement with any party to negotiations at this time.
We can only hope that these very recent legal actions of the tribe, along with the lessons learned the hard way over the past couple of years, make the new joint board of control skeptical of and careful about any “negotiation”.