Char-Koosta News

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Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission approves CSKT Compact for submittal to 2013 legislature

HELENA — The Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission (RWRCC) met Tuesday evening in Helena to consider approving the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes – Montana water compact and submitting it to the 2013 Legislature. The nine-member commission voted to forward the negotiated settlement to the Legislature for its consideration, with ratification contingent on approval of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project (FIIP) Water Use Agreement by the CSKT and the Flathead Joint Board of Control.

“The Compact presents a historic opportunity to resolve long-standing questions regarding water use in western Montana,” Compact Commission Chairman Chris Tweeten said. “Legislative approval will allow the Water Court to complete the water adjudication in a timely way, and will pave the way for orderly water development on the Reservation, where court decisions have created a chaotic situation for water users.”

“Over the past five years, we’ve come a long ways digging ourselves out of the recession. The Water Compact is a positive step forward in continuing in the right direction for economic growth in Lake County,” said Jarrod Shew, branch manager of First Interstate Bank in Polson. “It gives certainty to property owners, business people, and new people moving in from the outside.”

The Compact quantifies the CSKT’s rights on and off the reservation and settles the Tribes’ water claims for all time. The compact provides protections for existing water users and ensures that water is available for future development.

“The agreement has dealt very fairly with the farmers. I believe that every agricultural person in the valley is protected and that the negotiations have created an agreement that can allow us all to move forward positively as a community on the Reservation,” said Susan Lake, a farmer in Ronan.

The agreement also provides for the administration of water rights on the Reservation, something that has been absent since 1996.

“Since 1996, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has not been able to process new water right applications or changes to existing water rights on the Flathead Reservation under a series of Orders from the Montana Supreme Court. This freeze on new applications cannot be lifted until the compact is settled and the Tribes’ water rights are quantified,” said Tim Davis, DNRC Water Resources Division Administrator.

The CSKT water compact has been negotiated over many years. The Compact Commission, the CSKT and the United States held monthly public negotiation sessions between 2007 and 2012. The settlement consists of the Water Rights Compact and the Unitary Management and Administration Ordinance. Proposed settlement documents were released in November 2012, and were the subject of 15 public meetings held around western Montana in November and December. Changes were made to the documents in response to public comment received, and the final documents were posted on February 14, 2013. The final documents can be found on the RWRCC website at: http://www.dnrc.mt.gov/rwrcc/Compacts/CSKT/Default.asp. These documents are what the negotiation teams will seek to have ratified by the 2013 Legislature.

“The proposed compact is a result of 10 years of tough negotiations. It’s a good agreement and I hope it becomes law. It will provide for predictability and certainty for the business community on the Reservation,” said Ric Smith, the broker-owner of Century 21/Big Sky Realty in Polson.

The Flathead Joint Board of Control’s authority to approve the Water Use Agreement is the subject of litigation. The Flathead Joint Board of Control has appealed to the Montana Supreme Court the state district court decision enjoining it from executing the Water Use Agreement.

After State ratification, both the US Congress and the CSKT need to give final approval to the settlement. It would then be submitted to the Montana Water Court for inclusion in the Water Court’s final decrees.

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