© 2015 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

Water is arguably Montana’s most valuable resource.  It sustains life and is the lifeblood of agriculture, the largest segment of our economy. It is nearly impossible to believe but for all intents and purposes it appears that 2015 legislature is poised to relinquish their constitutionally-mandated jurisdiction and control over of western Montana’s water resources with the possible ratification of the CSKT water compact.  That would be the same water that 360,000 Montanan’s rely on for their well being, livelihoods and enjoyment.

Somewhere along the line the state decided that 7,000 43 (12 tribal council and 31 or so tribal attorneys) people deserve ownership of all that water, but don’t worry, the state took great pains to ensure that the 359,957 other people residing in western Montana are “protected” (wink, wink).  Please make no mistake about it, there only is a need to “protect” people because the state has willfully conceded it all to the tribe.

Is it at all possible that somewhere along the line the United States figured out that under the guise of an Indian water settlement it could gain control of western Montana’s abundant supply of clean fresh water?  Absolutely.

In a January editorial, Water is Clear But the Compact Isn’t,  the Daily Interlake asked the Montana legislature to approach the CSKT water compact cautiously because there are too many unknowns to rush a document, the contents of which had not even been released to the public until  a few weeks into the legislative session.  The editorial went on to express that the unintended consequences of passing this extremely complicated and very large 1,400 page forever document might be compared to the utility deregulation debacle, the consequences of which Montanans are still suffering with.

Yet on Thursday February 26th, the Montana Senate voted 31-19 to pass Senate Bill 262, a bill to ratify the CSKT Water Compact.

The purpose of this post is to ask the question, is the CSKT Water Compact the equivalent of deregulation of Montana’s water?  We say yes.


How quickly we forget the mistakes of the past.  Senator Fred Thomas, one of the cheerleaders for deregulation, also gave the CSKT Compact his stamp of approval.  A Bitterroot Star letter to the editor dated 05/01/2012 cautioned voters about Fred Thomas, saying the following:

Primary elections are upon us. The state senate (SD#45) contenders on the Republican ticket are….  the former state senator Fred Thomas who worked closely behind closed doors at a Helena motel (not on Senate Chambers’ floors), with the Racicot Administration and outside interests to create the deregulation movement, ensuring the financial and emotional deaths of individuals and MT communities.”

Eighteen years have passed since the Montana Legislature passed the Energy Deregulation Bill in 1997.  This action is now largely considered to be a blunder of historic proportions resulting in the collapse of the Montana Power Company, a public utility built with citizen’s money. At the time the legislature passed this bill Montana had some of the lowest electric rates in the nation.  Large companies such as Montana Resources successfully argued for deregulation, and legislators listened.  Like the CSKT Compact, huge money backed the effort–deregulation saw the likes of ENRON Corporation lining the pockets of “public servants”.  You remember the horror stories.

Ultimately the deregulation bill allowed Montana Power to sell their power generation assets to Pennsylvania Power and Light. Wholesale prices for electricity jumped as high as 400% in a matter of weeks. In 2001 the legislature tried to fix their mistake by passing legislation that delayed residential deregulation, and allowed industrial consumers to nullify expensive PPL contracts. Additionally the state guaranteed a bailout contract for five years at $770 million, necessitating significant rate increases for the state’s electric consumers.¹

Here are just a few of the headlines in the national news that followed, the consequences of deregulation that Montanans still live with.

New York Times 08/29/2002 Cheap Power Gone, Montana is to Vote on Buying Dams
New York Times 08/19/2003 Under Deregulation, Montana Power Price Soars
CBS News 06/02/2003 Who Killed Montana Power?
Los Angeles Times 03/07/2003 Deregulation Has Stung Montanans
USA Today 04/21/2007 Electric Deregulation Fails to Live Up to Promises as Bills Soar
Federal Trade Commission 2007 The Failure of Electricity Deregulation


Western Montana has plentiful water.  So much water in fact that there is no reason why the CSKT cannot receive an equitable portion of it without negatively impacting the uses of 360,000 other Montanans who also depend on that water. When the 1972 Montana Constitution was written, convention delegates understood how precious this resource is and unambiguously declared that Montana owns the water and is responsible for its administration and control.

As we have moved 43 years forward, things have changed a lot in Montana and in the rest of the world.  Water is quickly becoming the new “gold.”  After all water is necessary for life itself, and control over water can easily be used to control where people live, what they eat, and what they can do with their private property.

Instead of the electricity that is created with Montana’s abundant water resources, what could be better than to control the use of the water itself?

Not only is the state of Montana happy to concede to the United States / CSKT all of the water west of the divide, they are also willing to forever give up their jurisdiction over it within the boundaries of the reservation and large portions of western Montana outside the reservation.  How is that not deregulation of Montana’s water?

DEREGULATION is defined as:  the process of removing or reducing state regulations. It is therefore opposite of regulation, which refers to the process of the government regulating certain activities.

Article I (4) on page 6 of the UMO states: Upon the Effective Date of the Compact, this Ordinance shall govern all water rights, whether derived from tribal, state or federal law, and shall control all aspects of water use, including all permitting of new uses, changes of existing uses, enforcement of water right calls and all aspects of enforcement within the exterior boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Any provision of Title 85, MCA that is inconsistent with this Law of Administration is not applicable within the Reservation.

If this is not at least partial deregulation of state resources, we don’t know what is.


Would you be surprised to know that the same bad players involved with the deregulation of energy are rearing their ugly heads on the water compact, along with several new ones?  During the deregulation debate it was Enron.  Is the Bonneville Power Administration, the organization that is purchasing up massive volumes of land for tribes throughout the Northwest the lucky recipient of the “CSKT Water Compact” windfall?  Are there others?  Who loses when Bonneville and bull trout benefit from the theft of Montana’s water?

Are the millions of dollars spent in very deceiving advertising, and the personal phone calls to legislators and others by Denny Rehberg, Governor Bullock and Attorney General Fox an indicator as to what is at stake here? Without a doubt.  And even as recently as last Sunday, former Governor Racicot who signed Montana’s Deregulation Bill has weighed in with his support of the water compact.  Who’s next, Brian Schweitzer, Bill Clinton, George Bush, the New York Times?

Just the fact that the deregulation bad players are around pushing this compact should steer legislators away from voting for it.  However when you couple the massive amounts of money being spent by the tribe with the state’s failure to quantify the amount of water awarded or to complete any studies of it, legislators who truly care about Montana’s future and the possibility of unintended negative consequences should consider the CSKT WATER COMPACT TO BE TOXIC.

Will state deregulation of water within reservation boundaries pave the way for other political entities to control water or for the state to relinquish its control over other constitutionally mandated responsibilities?  We believe it will.

A reasonable person has to ask what kind of agenda is really being pushed here.  It is not an agenda that is supportive of the people of western Montana, instead it is one that will be destructive of our future.  Something much bigger than a “water compact just like any other” is going on here.

¹ Source: Electric Utility Deregulation and the Myths of the Energy Crisis By Tyson Slocum, Research Director Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy & Environment Program www.citizen.org/cmep