CSKT FEDERAL RESERVED WATER RIGHTS COMPACT
The State of Montana, Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), and U.S. Government are in the process of attempting to secure an agreement which quantifies the water rights of the CSKT. Any such agreement has to be ratified by the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress, and the Tribe before it would be finalized. The Montana Legislature rejected what had become a highly controversial CSKT Compact in 2013. Although the controversy escalated, the Compact passed by a narrow margin when it was brought back with modifications in 2015. Next it will go to Congress for considration, and then the tribe for finalization — that is if it does not get thrown our by the courts.
If an agreement is not finalized, the water rights would be determined through an adjudication process at the State Water Court. This is how most water rights in Montana are handled.
Many citizens, Indian and non-Indian alike, agree it would be desirable to have a tribal water compact of some sort. Many also agree that serious questions remain about the current proposal’s impact on existing water rights, property values, crops, and livestock. There is understandable concern over placing the water rights of non-Indian people under an experimental new tribal administration, as well as the notion of expanding tribal and federal jurisdiction to waters well outside the Flathead Reservation boundary.
It appears most of western Montana would be impacted in some way by this unprecedented new water law, yet we have little idea to what extent because there is nothing like this compact and no studies have been done.
Water Rights expert, Dr. Kate Vandemoer, explains concerns with the CSKT Water Compact in a simple, and factual, manner.
Since an approved Compact would become a FINAL agreement between the state, the tribe, and the federal government, it cannot simply be corrected later like most other laws can. It is absolutely imperative to ensure it is wise and fair for ALL the affected people. You wouldn’t expect anyone to object to independent analysis of the compact, but the Governor already has.
You may recall that rather than approve the highly complex water compact when it came before the State Legislature in 2013, the legislature ordered the state’s Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC) to perform a study of the Compact and its 1,000 plus pages of technical documents. To our dismay Governor Bullock vetoed that bill and the study that would have provided critical information.
In the winter of 2014, fifty legislators made a formal request for an independent evaluation of the social, economic, and environmental impacts associated with the proposed CSKT Compact. Althoigh some study was conducted of certain aspects, the legsialture never received the information they had requested.
Despite serious and ongoing concerns and confusion, the Compact was passed by a narrow majority of the Montana Legislature in 2015