Guest opinion: Water rights in jeopardy without compact | TSLN.com

Guest opinion: Water rights in jeopardy without compact

Brad Hamlett
Montana Senate District 15

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact is essential to the future of Montana's water resources. As the last water compact to be ratified in the state of Montana, the CSKT Compact will not only protect water right owners from controversial litigation, but will ensure that all Montanans have access to the water resources that they need.

This negotiated agreement is the result of three governments—the state of Montana, the United States and the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes—as well as stakeholder groups from across the state that were determined to reach an agreement beneficial to both tribal and non-tribal members.

These groups worked together because they recognized that the economic future of our entire state, not just in the Flathead, is at stake. The fact is that this agreement is not about the water rights of one group or another—it is about all of our water rights. This thread of water ties us all together regardless of your proximity to the Flathead Reservation. Montana is a Headwaters State and our citizens have relied on these waters for more than 150 years as they flow through the state on their way to our borders.

'First in time, first in right' is the foundation of our state-based water rights and, due to the federal reservation of the CSKT's tribal water rights, the tribe has claims that predate those of most senior water right holders in the state. The state wisely negotiated so that the Compact protects these existing state-based water rights.

If the Montana House of Representatives rejects this compact then the majority of Montanans will find that their rights are predated by those of the tribe under the 'first in time, first in right' standard. This will force individuals to defend their water rights in court on the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Clark Fork, Kootenai, Swan, Flathead, Jefferson, Gallatin, Madison, Missouri, Dearborn, Prickly Pear, Smith, Teton, Marias, Milk, Belt Creek, Judith, and Musselshell rivers—and that's just to name a few.

Representatives should not risk jeopardizing the water rights of thousands of Montanans by voting against the Compact. This is an equitable piece of legislation.

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Those of you who recognize the importance of water, who have water rights or use rights, and who want the state to be secure economically need to take a moment and encourage your representatives to support SB 262, the CSKT Water Compact. Silence is not a viable option.

Help secure the future of our water resources—contact your legislator today at 406-444-4800 or through http://www.leg.mt.gov.