PABLO — The U.S. Secretary of Interior signed CSKT Water Rights Compact today completing the federal process enacting the Compact. With the Secretary’s signature the Tribes may now commence with implementing the Compact and the companion Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance for the Flathead Reservation.
The Montana Water Rights Protection Act was signed into law in December 2020, however the effective date begins with the Secretary’s signature. CSKT’s Tribal Council and Montana’s Governor released a joint statement immediately following the signing.
CSKT Chairwoman Shelly R. Fyant released a statement.
“Our elders continually remind us to protect our water and this day marks the beginning of the water compact implementation that will protect the water for all generations to come. The many people who worked on this, especially those who are no longer with us, I’d like to honor them for their efforts allowing us to reach this point. They were all instrumental in realizing this long-awaited vision.”
The water resources of the Reservation are one of the foremost assets of the Reservation, and Reservation residents depend on wise and stable regulation and appropriate use and conservation of this resource. Upon the Compact effective date notable changes in how water rights within the Flathead Reservation are governed will take effect including:
- The establishment of the Flathead Reservation Water Management Board to administer and manage all aspects of water use within the Flathead Reservation. Two members of the Board will be appointed by the Governor of the State of Montana, two by the Tribes, and a fifth chosen by the other four.
- The Water Board will have the authority to employ a Water Engineer to carry out the functions assigned by the Board pursuant to the new Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance.
- The Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance will govern all water rights within the Flathead Reservation whether derived from tribal, state or federal law including all permitting of new uses, changes of existing uses and all aspects of enforcement of water rights within the Flathead Reservation.
- The Ordinance allows Reservation residents to register certain existing uses of Reservation waters that are in existence on the effective date of the Compact and that meet the criteria established by the Ordinance.
- The Ordinance allows the Tribes, their members and Allottees to register existing uses of the Tribal Water Right that were not quantified in the Compact such as stock water, domestic wells, and historically irrigated allotments held in Trust that are not served by the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. Existing uses of the Tribal water that are properly registered within five years of the Compact effective date will have an 1855 priority date and will be valid enforceable. The Tribes Natural Resources Department will assist Tribal Members and Allottees in preparing registrations of Existing Uses of the Tribal Water Right for filing.
- The Ordinance allows up to 180 days for a person to register certain State-law based existing uses that meet the criteria established in the Ordinance such as groundwater development for domestic and stock water purposes. During the interim period between the Compact Effective Date and the appointment of the Water Board the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will provide assistance to individuals in preparing registrations for filing with the Water Board.
Tribal members have the option of registering a qualifying Existing Use as part of the Tribal Water Right or as state-law based water right.