Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

August 26, 2010

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 negotiation session.

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 CSKT.

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 availability conditions.”

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 reservation.

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 operation.

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 flood irrigated.

“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 parties.
    • 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.

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