Water compact

Supporters of the CSKT water compact line up Saturday to testify before the House Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol.

Mike Dennison/Gazette State Bureau

Members of the Montana House must wade into one of the most important and complex issues of the 2015 session this week. The water compact negotiated over the past decade by the Montana Reserve Water Rights Commission and the Confederated and Salish Kootenai Tribes will permanently quantify tribal water rights and protect water users throughout the state.

The negotiated water compact must pass this Legislature. Over the past few months, experts in Montana water law from various points on the political spectrum have endorsed the water compact. We urge lawmakers to heed these recommendations:

“I’m pleased that an agreement has been reached that respects tribal rights, while ensuring that irrigators and residents in the region continue to have access to a reliable water supply,” said Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who previously worked on water rights issues as Montana’s attorney general.

“My primary concerns have been that the compact be constitutional and that it guarantees irrigators receive sufficient water to continue farming today and in future generations. This compact, which is significantly better than the previous one, does both,” said Republican Tim Fox, Montana attorney general.

“The current compact will ensure that irrigators receive water at the same level as their historic consumptive use. It also provides irrigators a guaranteed delivery entitlement which can be transferred with the land through sale or when the property is passed down from one generation to the next,” Marc Racicot, former governor and attorney general, wrote.

“There is nothing in the compact that will violate the property rights of the people of Montana. If anything, the compact upholds property rights by preventing any decrease in property value associated with uncertain water rights,” Rick Hill, former U.S. representative wrote.

“With the compact the tribes have agreed that they will not litigate in-stream flows that exist off of the reservation — meaning Gallatin irrigators won’t have to go back to the Water Court, again,” Walt Sales, Gallatin Valley irrigator, wrote.

“CSKT is a fair settlement for water users on and off the reservation. Without a compact, the adjudication of Montana’s water could be held up for decades, creating uncertainty, economic loss, and costing Montana’s farmers, ranchers, and water users millions. It is time to finish this process and move forward with the adjudication of Montana’s water,” said John Youngberg, executive vice president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation.

“It’s very important for people off the reservation to pay attention. If there is not a compact, it’s all going to go to court,” said Lorents Grosfield, Sweet Grass County irrigator and former Republican state lawmaker.

“The compact will achieve several important goals, including protecting families and businesses so that access can be transferred to future generations or upon sale of land. It would also ensure complete protection for stock water, municipal water, domestic, commercial and other non-irrigation uses on and off the reservation,” wrote Scott Reichner, a Big Fork business owner and former Republican state legislator.

We call on all Montana lawmakers to carefully consider the compact’s bipartisan support among elected leaders, including Fox and Bullock. Don’t be confused by naysayers whose attacks are not based in law. Read for yourself what the Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission and the attorney general say about the compact.

The CSKT compact is important to the entire state, not just to Western Montana. A majority of state senators recognized those facts and passed the compact. Now members of the House, including those from central and Eastern Montana must do the same. Vote to ratify this carefully negotiated agreement based on science and law.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.