Note: Our thanks to former state Senator Ken Miller for this article sent out to papers around the state, and to Western Ag Reporter, the Daily Interlake and other newspapers that carried it.
Volumes have been written about how the 2015 Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) water compact is unconstitutional, costly, and sets in motion risky laws based on unprecedented new policies. These policies will be very destructive to Montanan’s for generations to come. Currently the only presented reason to support the compact is to alleviate the threat of the CSKT filing suit on 10,000 water claims all across western Montana. These claims are in my opinion very weak if not totally non-existing.
This policy has the potential to be the most damaging to Montana since statehood, including the electrical deregulation debacle. In fact, the parallels of deregulation and the 2015 CSKT water compact are astonishing. Both were pushed by the federal government with millions of outside dollars spent on high priced lobbyist to convince policy makers that these are good ideas and that doing nothing will be very painful to Montanans.
Those major players involved in deregulation are now right back in the center of this compact. Many are making big money to ensure its passage regardless of the impact.
With deregulation, Enron Power was slated to make billions of dollars. In the same fashion Bonneville Power Administration is in the middle of this compact and could make out well when the federal government controls the water used to run hydroelectric dams. Because of the large amount of money involved with driving deregulation we now understand there was a deep level of corruption. We must all hope that this level of corruption is not repeating itself.
Another sad parallel between deregulation and the CKST compact is what is unknown. About all we do know about the CSKT compact is that it assigns most of the water in western Montana to the control of the federal government. From there it’s another pass it to figure out what it says piece of legislation.
Without a determination of the amount of water in this compact it is virtually impossible to understand its adverse impacts, or its implications on future growth and development. Having submitted the compact to the legislature in its current form, the governor, attorney general and compact commission are literally asking legislators to say yes to a blank check that will award the federal government / CSKT control of the abundant waters of western Montana.
It is also likely that the precedent setting nature of the compact will reverberate around the county, paving the way for further overreach. Some examples include:
Assuming that an access right to take fish in common with the citizens of the territory equates to a time immemorial water right off the tribe’s reservation
Removing state citizens from the protection of the state for their water needs and
Giving bare legal title to 100% of the irrigation project water to the tribe, although 90% of the lands served by it are privately owned,
It took more than a decade to negotiate this compact, and at the product of that negotiation has far more flaws than it does benefits.
Ultimately, if passed, the CSKT compact will still set in motion litigation for generations to come and eventually we will likely lose all our water rights to the federal government.
Many political careers came to an end as a result of electrical deregulation. I hope our elected officials will pull back the veil of deceit involved with this compact and stop this major policy change, now and for the future.
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Ken Miller is a former state senator from Laurel and an irrigation water user in Carbon County.