©2015 Montana Land and Water Alliance

Our thanks to the Western Ag Reporter for their coverage of the CSKT Water Compact.

Montana’s Sacrifice Area

From the state senators who have cultural artifacts on their private property, to representatives heavily connected to Northwestern Energy, to the bill sponsor who didn’t even inform his constituents of what he was doing, the reality is now setting in across Montana as to the devastating impacts and implications of the CSKT Compact. This should be sinking in now to all those legislators who voted for the compact without knowing what was in it, so they could find out what was in it.

What do all these compact supporters have in common? They thought it would be easier to sacrifice one part of Montana so the rest of Montana, their private property, and their political careers–would be “unmolested” by the CSKT water claims.

Well, how did that work out? Doesn’t seem like anyone is bragging about it now.

The Tribes filed their 10,000 claims anyway despite the promises, and those additional water claims cover the lands represented by these politicians who sacrificed western Montana. In their desire to “contain the damage”, they may have compromised large areas of eastern Montana. The Compact language does not limit the Tribes or the United States from pursuing water claims in eastern Montana.

Not to be outdone, those organizations that advocate for agriculture, ranching and their property rights, like the Montana Stock Growers Association (MSGA) and the Montana Farm Bureau (MFB), happily joined the bandwagon and agreed to sacrifice western Montana agriculturalists and ranchers to the CSKT and United States.   They even testified against a bill (HB 434) proposed by Representative Bob Brown (R-Sanders County) that would have provided a fund to help eastern Montanans protect themselves against, and the Water Court be able to handle, the 10,000 claims of the CSKT. These organizations also testified against a bill (HB 636) that would have retained state sovereign prerogatives over water and land use in the face of federal land and water control efforts. So the MSGA and MFB should be called advocates in name only.

Let’s look at just one part of what the compact proponents brought to western Montana:

  • Reduction of agricultural and stock water use for 2,500 families within the federal Flathead Irrigation Project (FIP) from 50%-80% through the “Compact Implementation Technical Team” established by the Compact to implement that reduction through “adaptive management”. That team has only one representative from the affected irrigation/ranching community

This is a known fact that could have been identified if the compact proponents were really interested in making sure no one was hurt by the Compact. Western Montana has enough water for everybody without having to take water from anybody, confirmed by Montana’s own Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). So what was the goal of the CSKT Compact?

In my view, the plan of the Compact for the FIP is a taking, plain and simple. This taking is being perpetuated by the state of Montana, and is why the state gave itself immunity in the compact from “damages, costs, and attorneys fees”. Without that immunity, taxpayers would be responsible for paying damages to those whose water rights were taken and property devalued in western Montana by the CSKT Compact.

(Note: In order for the state to have that immunity from damages, costs, and attorney’s fees associated with this compact, Article II Section 18 of the Montana Constitution requires that each house of the legislature must agree by 2/3 vote.   The alleged passage of the CSKT Compact did not achieve that vote margin and is currently in litigation.)

One of the problems with this particular provision of the Compact is that when it becomes state law, it provides a framework through which you too could be “affected by” the Compact. Could the DNRC come to your irrigation district, at the behest of environmentalists, Tribes, or the federal government and form a “committee” to reduce the amount of irrigation water use to save fish?

Individual senators, representatives, and compact proponents are on record saying there would be no impact to anyone from this compact, especially eastern Montana. The MFB and MSGA told their constituents they had done extensive research and agreed with this assertion.

But it turns out a lot of people actually knew what was going to happen: certainly those of us who live here, and several western and eastern Montana legislators who pleaded with their colleagues to respect property rights on the House floor on April 16, 2015.

Well, the compact proponents were wrong and gambled on their belief that they could “contain the damage” to western Montana…indeed now a sacrifice area to the federal government and CSKT.   It’s hard to imagine that this won’t backfire as it has assured the onslaught of litigation to prevent and/or compensate for property damage resulting from the provisions of this compact.


Catherine Vandemoer is the Chair of the Montana Land and Water Alliance and can be contacted through http://www.westernmtwaterrights.wordpress.com