Water rights negotiation continue
By B.L. Azure
POLSON — The three parties involved in the negotiations for a
federal reserved water rights compact on the Flathead Indian
Reservation met last Wednesday at KwaTaqNuk Resort for their August
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the State of
Montana and the United States have until June 30, 1913 to finalize the
Tribes’ water rights compact. The United States is the trustee for the
In an update of technical issues CSKT hydrologist Seth
Makepeace said the technical working group has nearly all existing
water use permits accounted for. That includes state permits, Flathead
Indian Irrigation Project permits and secretarial permits.
“We are really close to the finish line on these,” Makepeace
said. The quantification of the permits is a key component of the water
rights negotiations. “We will soon be able to answer the questions
about existing water uses on the reservation.”
Makepeace said the Hungry Horse Reservoir and Flathead River
Basin supplemental water issue has been completed. “It is now ready for
legal review. It will tell us how to manage water under different water
The CSKT hold the position that they will honor all existing
water use permits on the Flathead Indian Reservation. However, they
said that could only be done if there was supplemental water available
to ensure that there was enough water for the present and future uses
of the Tribes.
They maintain that much of the Tribes’ and
individual tribal member’s water rights were put in jeopardy with
construction of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. Through the
years most of the 125,000 acres under the Project has slipped from
Indian ownership to non-Indian ownership. The FIIP uses more than 95
percent of the water on the reservation and the remainder has been
gobbled up with municipal, industrial and individual water permits.
Consequently there is very little if any left for any proposed future
tribal uses. The supplemental water from the Flathead River Basin and
Hungry Horse Reservoir would prime that development pump.
The modeling on water flows in the Jocko and Mission valleys
has been completed. Modeling in the Little Bitterroot area in the
northwest portion of the reservation continues.
“The big issue we are working on now is the wetlands,”
Makepeace said, adding that they were diverse in nature. “The Tribes
are looking to quantify and maintain the wetlands on the reservation.
This goes back to the Treaty (of Hell Gate), time immemorial and the
protection of wildlife habitat and cultural resources in the wetlands.
The Tribes want to quantify and protect their wetland resources.”
Makepeace said the Tribes goal is to protect the wildlife
habitats and to ensure connectivity or corridors between them for the
benefit of the wildlife. There are more than 160 species of wildlife on
The Tribes are using various mitigation funds
to accomplish the treaty-based rights for rehabilitation of existing
riparian damage or purchase of wetlands to offset the damage done in
the aboriginal homeland and wildlife habitat.
They have Arco mitigation funds for damage done in the
aboriginal homeland by the mining and smelting of copper ore in Butte
and Anaconda; Highway 93 mitigation funds for damage done by highway
construction on the reservation; BPA mitigation funds related to Hungry
Horse Dam operation and Kerr Dam mitigation funds related to its
Makepeace said that federal regulations are being used to
determine the wetlands. Some of the wetlands on the reservation were
inadvertently created by irrigation canal leaks and irrigators who over
“There are quite a few wetlands created by canal seepage,” he said. “Our next step is to categorize the wetlands.”
The next negotiation session meeting is 9 a.m. Wednesday, September 29 at KwaTaqNuk Resort in Polson.
The negotiators encourage public comments and questions on
upcoming topics at the public sessions or by contacting the negotiating
• Montana Reserved Water Compact Commission at 406-444-6841.
• Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes at 406-675-2700, ext. 1222 or 406-249-1888.
• United States Department of Interior at 503-231-6299.