CSKT water compact bill clears the Senate
February 26, 2015
The Montana Farm Bureau applauds the Montana Senate's strong bipartisan YES vote on SB 262, commonly referred to as the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribe (CSKT) water compact bill. The state's largest agricultural organization supports the bill due to a strong belief that without the compact, Montana's water adjudication could be held up for decades. Montana Farm Bureau policy, developed by its members, supports a water compact which creates certainty and prevents economic loss.
"There is a lot of misinformation being circulated about the Compact. At a very basic level this has become an issue where you either stand for agriculture and protecting the property rights associated with our water rights or you support the spread of misinformation, radical fear mongering and other disingenuous practices. If we don't have a compact, the CSKT will be forced to file and litigate their water claims. They have the ability to file on claims on major rivers and their tributaries as far east as Billings," explains MFBF Director of State Affairs Chelcie Cremer. "The idea of litigation is not a threat, it is a fact. If the Compact is not ratified the CSKT will pursue their water claims through the courts as would any other water user trying to establish a water right in the state of Montana."
Cremer explains that if the tribe files their claims for water rights across Montana, it would become the responsibility of the individual water right holder to object to those claims through the court system. The tribes claims will be treated the same as any other claimant and will be give prima facie status – or assumed to be correct. Under Montana law, the burden of proof lies with the objector to show that the claim is inaccurate. Those objectors would be existing water users in Montana. "This becomes expensive, time consuming, and there is no guarantee how many water rights the court will award the tribe. It is estimated that this would cost the state General Fund (you as taxpayers) $73 million to cover DNRC and Water Court costs. This does not include the cost to individual water right holders hiring attorneys," she says.
During discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Sen. Chas Vincent SD 1, spoke to the importance of ratifying this Compact, "When you follow the case law and look at what would happen (if the Compact fails), the outcome will cost Montanans millions."
MFBF thanks the Senate Judiciary Committee members who passed the bill out of committee to a full Senate vote. "We especially want to thank Sen. Chas Vincent, R-SD1, who introduced the bill after more than 500 hours of research," notes Cremer. "We'd also like to thank all of the Senators who passed the Compact on a strong bipartisan vote of 31-19 this afternoon."