Montana: Deadline to object to CSKT water compact, Feb. 9
The Montana Water Court has granted a 60 day extension for those wishing to file an objection to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ (CSKT) water compact with the United States and the State of Montana.
The federal government ratified the compact Dec. 27, 2021. The state and tribe have also approved it. The Water Court has not given its stamp of approval yet.
The tribe was given June 15, 2015, as a deadline for filing the water rights they wanted to claim, which amounts to about 12,000 claims, said rancher and water rights attorney Wally Congdon.
Congdon explains that the contract is open ended because of language in the federal bill to ratify the compact which reads “…this bill ratifies this compact as modified by this act…”
Congdon said there is no way of knowing what modifications will be proposed.
The Walton Rights is a federal case which calls for the Indian Reservations to be provided the right to reserved water rights, said Congdon. But quantifying how much should be allotted is not cut and dried, he said.
Congdon also said that the tribe can claim the rights to water upstream and downstream in areas of the water body that are not physically located on the confines of the reservation.
Those with water rights up or downstream of the reservation could lose their rights for irrigation or other uses, said Congdon. The tribe may need to increase their water usage to dilute pollution, keep fish alive, irrigate, or for many other reasons, he said. “The tribe has the claims to the water for water quality. The federal law did that. We have no idea which drainages, streams, what volume, what flow rate, they are provided,” he said. “Will someone please tell us how much, where, what use, when and how? Please?”
Congdon encourages any users of the water who could lose their water rights – temporarily or permanently – to object.
“Look who that affects, a cattle or sheep producer, grain farmer, factory. It’s everyone,” he said.
Congdon also said that other federal treaties provide “the right of navigation” for free to all citizens of the US, which he said could be in conflict with the compact.
If the contract isn’t approved, the tribe’s approximately 12,000 claims, covering two-thirds of the state, will remain, says Congdon.
The Mineral County commissioners filed a total of 12 objections. Other counties and irrigation districts have also objected, including the Missoula Irrigation District and Sanders County, he said. Numerous individuals have filed their objections.
Anyone wanting to file an objection to the contract must do so by Feb. 9, 2023.
Go to the Montana Water Courts Website: https://courts.mt.gov/courts/water/Notices-Info/PublicNotices and click on “objection form.”
As of Dec. 8, 2022, individuals had filed about 250 objections, reported the Lake County Leader.
According to Senator Tester the compact:
1. Avoids costly litigation for taxpayers and the Tribes.
2. Ratifies the Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ water compact with the State of Montana.
3. Protects the water claims of existing water rights holders.
4. Resolves the Tribes’ water-related claims against the federal government.
5. Provides the necessary resources for the Tribes to invest in critical water infrastructure that will benefit tribal and non-tribal members in Flathead and Lake Counties.
• The cost of the CSKT Water Compact is $2.3 billion— including $55 million from the State of Montana.