PABLO — By now all Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Members and Allotees have in their mail received a notice to register their existing tribal water right. It is part of the process in the fairly recently passed Flathead Nation Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact (FRWRC), via the Montana Water Rights Protection Act (MWRPA).
CSKT Legal Department scientist Mary Price informed folks at the Arlee District meeting Monday of the responsibilities of the targeted audience to register their water rights with the Tribal Water Rights Registration Office (TWRRO). They and all other people will have five years to register their water rights claims with the office. Among the suggested registration requirements is a well drillers log to help speed up the process.
The lion’s share of the water rights claims will be for individual domestic wells, as well as wells used by the Salish Kootenai Housing Authority.
Secretarial water rights are a different matter that will be addressed separately. Secretarial Water Rights are related to historic water uses on the Flathead Reservation documented by the Department of Interior that pre-existed prior to the construction of FIIP.
The TWRRO is located on the north end of the headquarters complex in the former Central Mail building on 36100 2nd Street East. It will open for business on January 10, 2022, and will have staff available to assist people through the registration process. To schedule an appointment, call 406-675-2700, ext. 1161.
Price said the Tribes’ water rights settlement is now in full effect after its September 17, 2021 signage by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland. Among other things, it includes the quantification of the water uses on the Flathead Reservation that is determined, in part, by registration of existing non-quantified water rights.
“I encourage people to make a reservation with the water rights office for registration assistance,” Price said, and advising people not to wait till the end of the 5-year process.
The management of water on the Flathead Reservation will be managed jointly by the Flathead Nation and the State of Montana via the Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance (UAMO)under the auspices of the MWRPA. It was passed individually be each government.
The UAMO and MWRPA facilitated the establishment of a five-person Flathead Reservation Water Management Board (FRWMB). It consists of two members appointed by the CSKT, two members appointed by the State of Montana, and with a fifth member jointly appointed by the Tribes and State. A non-voting sixth member will be appointed by the Department of Interior.
The CSKT have chosen Teresa Wall-McDonald to serve two years and Clayton Matt to serve 4 years on the FRWMB. The State and DOI have yet to name their board members. Price said the State should have their members appointed within the next couple of weeks.
The FRWMB will be the administrative entity responsible for all water rights within the exterior boundaries of the Flathead Reservation. It will employ a water engineer to carry out the administration and enforcement of the board functions. Any new water well drilling will require an application to be submitted to the FRWMB.
All the water rights, including existing uses of the tribal water right when quantified, will be entered into a statewide water rights data base that will be maintained by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC).
TWRRO Attorney Christine Courville said that wells already registered with DNRC don’t have to register with the Flathead Reservation Water Management Board.
• For folks that don’t need assistance they can mail their registration forms to: Tribal Water Rights Office, PO Box 278, Pablo, MT 59855.
• To schedule an appointment with the Tribal Water Rights Office, call 406-675-2700, ext. 1161.