Montana Farm Bureau testifies in favor of water compact bill
The Montana Farm Bureau testified in favor of Senate Bill 262 at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Monday, Feb. 16. The compact is an agreement for the equitable division and apportionment of water rights between the state and its people and the Indian Tribes. The State has already negotiated and the legislature approved 17 compacts with six tribes and five federal agencies in Montana. The bill, carried by Senator Chas Vincent, R-SD1, would ratify a water rights compact entered into by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Reservation, the State of Montana and the U.S. government which would create a unitary administration and management ordinance to govern waters on the Flathead Reservation providing exceptions from certain state water laws.
During his testimony, Montana Farm Bureau Executive Vice President John Youngberg noted, “Montana Farm Bureau policy supports a negotiated compact for one very big reason; it protects the water rights of farmers and ranchers. If there is not a negotiated agreement, the tribe is required by state law to file and litigate their claims for in-stream flow rights on all water as far east as the Milk River, the upper Musselshell, the Upper Missouri and Upper Yellowstone,” said Youngberg.
Youngberg told the committee that not having an approved compact would require all current water rights holders on those streams and tributaries to defend their rights against an 1855 right (the year the treaty was signed).
“Granted, all of the Tribes’ claims may not be upheld but each individual water right holder would have to go to court to defend their rights. This would cost Montana farmers and ranchers as well as municipalities and industrial users millions of dollars,” he said.
Youngberg explained that the compact does not change regulatory jurisdiction on any water off of the reservation, noting that the Tribes won’t have a new say over management of water rights, water quality, wildlife or anything off of the reservation. All stock rights, municipal, domestic and commercial rights on and off the reservation are 100 percent protected.
“The bottom line is that the 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,” Youngberg concluded.
–Mont. Farm Bureau