Water Rights Act right for Montana

February 20, 2020 8:39 AM

Like most of my constituents in Granite County who make their living in agriculture, water and water rights mean everything to us. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’m hearing regarding Sen. Steve Daines’ new bill to settle the CSKT water dispute.

As a Granite County Commissioner and someone who’s been involved in this for years, I’ve been pleased to see the progress on this issue regarding off-reservation water rights and the finality of the claims being relinquished, and the fact that water disputes can be settled by the state and not the feds.

For those of us who all but gave up after the legislature passed the original compact in 2015 and a federal settlement bill was introduced in 2016 , Sen. Daines’ changes to the settlement are courageous and represent a great step forward for Montana. There have been significant changes and improvements that have been sufficient enough for me to support what Senator Daines is proposing.

The most notable changes are the tribe’s concessions that affect folks in agriculture and off-reservation situations, like the people I represent. The tribes are relinquishing 97% of their water claims across the state with prejudice, which means that CSKT is giving those claims permanently. We would no longer have to live under a cloud of uncertainty regarding our water rights.

Furthermore, if water disputes do crop up, they can be dealt with within the state by people who understand what water means to farmers and stockgrowers.

The changes that are being made to settle this issue are significant. Commonsense folks should put politics aside, and get behind this plan. Senator Daines is saving Montanans from years and years of court battles and legal fees, and frankly, Montanans should be appreciative of his efforts. His negotiations have made settling this issue for good a possibility, and I’m confident this is the right thing for Montana.

— Bill Slaughter is a commissioner in Granite County