© 2014 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana
At our very first Concerned Citizens meeting in early 2012, we polled the twenty or so people attending, asking each person what it was they hoped to accomplish with respect to the Flathead Water Compact. Did they want to make it better? Did they want to kill it? Exactly what direction did the group generally think we were headed?
It was quickly decided we simply did not have enough information at the time to make a decision on what action, if any, was necessary.
So with that initial lack of understanding, background and information in mind, we began the process of delving deeply into the compact material. We did so however by taking nothing for granted. In other words, we did not simply buy the compact commission’s assumptions, talking points, or threats of litigation, we wanted to know hard, specific facts. We refused to simply rely on what had been manufactured for the public by the compact commission.
In addition to the compact itself, we studied the context of the history of the Flathead Reservation, including congressional acts that served to diminish the reservation, Indian Claims Commission materials that should preclude the claims being advanced by the Tribes, the millions of dollars in settlement monies that the Tribes had already received for issues they are advancing in the Compact, and state laws prohibiting the kind of actions the Compact Commission was taking. This all was done to better understand what the foundational premises of the compact should have been, as opposed to the narrative the compact commission had provided to the public.
Court cases and decisions were studied well enough to understand the biased lens the compact commission was using to paint the water compact as reasonable and the best agreement we could get.
It did not take long to realize that something was terribly amiss, and by the grace of God, enough questions were raised by enough people about the compact in 2013 to prevent the Montana legislature from rubber stamping it into existence.
Fast forward 2 1/2 years to October 2014. The compact that existed two years ago essentially remains the same. The only thing different is the amount of money being spent by the tribe and the state to “sell” the compact to legislators and the public. There also are enough RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only) such as Bruce Tutvedt and Dan Salomon who are willing to change the rules to ensure much easier passage of the same bad deal in 2015. We have watched the Helena power brokers jockey for position to make their own “deals”, and have seen questionable if not compromised studies that were developed in a watered down attempt to give lip service to the “due diligence” that should have taken place.
LIPSTICK OR ADJUDICATION?
At this late point in the process we are still hearing many people say that WE MUST HAVE A COMPACT. To that we have to ask WHY?
If, after more than a decade of negotiations, you have one party that is absolutely unwilling to concede any of the ASKS made in their day one proposal, only one of two things can happen: Either the state could stand up for its citizens and move the tribes water rights to the adjudication process, or they could completely capitulate to the tribe’s demands. Unfortunately the state chose to capitulate, and evidence of that capitulation can be found in every compact document, appendix, water abstract, and “public negotiation” session.
Far too many people still believe that we can take the 1,400 page behemoth, and add just enough amendments, aka, lipstick to make it better. Some are suggesting that the Unitary Management Ordinance could be tweaked, or that the farmers be given a little more water, or, by ignoring the fact that the compact impacts at least 360,000 people, that their little piece of it be changed to ensure that it doesn’t affect them.
We have looked deeply into the details of the compact, and know enough about it to understand it is a direct assault on the water and property rights of Montana Citizens. We also know that state and tribal attorneys did their best to bullet proof the compact from challenges. The bases are covered well. If one component of it, such as the UMO is improved or removed from the compact, does it really make any difference if the overall result is that the tribe gets all the water, or has adaptive management to
get more water tweak the compact after the fact? The significant far reaching and precedent setting implications of this compact are all the more reason that the compact must be killed.
If people get caught up in a game of making the compact more palatable by amending or tweaking it, what will remain in the end is still a document that expands federal reserved water rights into something they were never intended to be, and gives the federal government control of Montana’s very valuable water resources.
We ask legislators and the public to resist any effort at this point to attempt to make the compact better with tweaks, amendments, or by adding any other lipstick. A bad compact going in will still be a bad compact going out. The simple answer is that there are not enough tweaks in the world that will improve the existing compact to the point that it is good for Montana or its citizens.
A completely new compact that follows the law is the only viable negotiation pathway. Otherwise we’d all be better off taking our chances in court.
IT HAS BECOME INCREASINGLY CLEAR THAT THE ONLY VENUE WHERE CSKT AND MONTANA CITIZEN’S WATER RIGHTS WILL BE FAIRLY CONSIDERED IS THE MONTANA WATER COURT AND THE ADJUDICATION PROCESS. While no outcome can be guaranteed, it is difficult to see how we could do any worse than this compact. If the adjudication process is good enough for all other Montanans, it should be good enough for western Montana as well.
Let’s refuse to allow the compact commission, governor or attorney general to divide the opposition to this compact. Just say no. Send proposed the compact to the graveyard where it belongs. Do not pass go, it is time to head to adjudication.
And if all of that isn’t quite enough for you, remember that the state of Montana still has not provided anyone with the quantification of the tribe’s water right. Recall proceedings should be immediately be filed for any legislator that votes for a blank check in the form of a water rights compact with no viable or verifiable quantification of the amount of water necessary to fulfill the purpose of the reservation. To do so would also violate their oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the State of Montana and the United States.