District Court judge blocks vote on Flathead water compact

2013-04-17T07:50:00Z 2013-04-23T16:01:05Z District Court judge blocks vote on Flathead water compactBy VINCE DEVLIN Missoulian The Billings Gazette
April 17, 2013 7:50 am  • 

ST. IGNATIUS – Approximately 80 people – two of them holding signs reading “Don’t steal our water” – showed up Tuesday morning for a special meeting of the Flathead Joint Board of Control.

But an expected board vote on whether to adopt or reject the controversial Flathead Indian Irrigation Project Water Use Agreement never took place.

“I had to get a judge out of bed to get it signed,” said Ronan attorney Lloyd Ingraham, one of several outspoken opponents of the water use agreement who filed a petition in District Court the day before to, as he put it, “prohibit them from adopting it.”

District Court Judge C.B. McNeil – whose earlier ruling that the joint board did not have the authority to enter into the agreement was recently vacated by the Montana Supreme Court – signed the writ of prohibition.

Two of the board’s 12 members called the special meeting Monday, and the 1,500 irrigators on the Flathead reservation were notified.

After the board met in executive session for nearly two hours on an undisclosed personnel issue, the people milling about outside and in the parking lot were told no vote on the agreement would be taking place because of the legal action, and the meeting was not opened to the public until chairman Walt Schock was entertaining a motion to adjourn.

The water use agreement was considered an integral part of a separate water compact between the state, the federal government and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

That compact, 10 years in the making, stalled in the Legislature.

Opponents of the compact and accompanying water use agreement believe the two proposals give the tribes too much control over water in western Montana, and will create insurmountable problems for non-Indian irrigators on the reservation.

Earlier this week, the tribes – who other parties involved in hammering out the compact say negotiated in good faith for a decade – indicated they were ready to file a lawsuit for their water rights now that the Legislature had opted not to take up the issue of ratifying the compact.

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