Compact arguments don’t hold water

| June 1, 2020 2:23 PM

I was reading an Verdell Jackson’s opinion piece last week and as we have heard many times, “You are entitled to your opinion but not to your own facts.”

Where does it say in the CSKT water compact the CSKT gets all the future water from the headwater of the Flathead River, Hungry Horse Dam and Flathead Lake? Nowhere. Particularly troubling is he fails to share that the tribes water out of Hungry Horse would be available for use only in the state of Montana and at a fair market price. 11,000 acre feet of that would be given over to state control for water mitigation.

No state-based water rights on the reservation will be taken over by the tribe. Those rights will be as filed with the DNRC or adjudicated by the Montana Water Court. Water will be allocated to the irrigation project at historic levels and there will be shared shortages with the fish in drought years and also the ability to get water from Hungry Horse at a very low cost.

The tribe will not take control of county roads, bridges, and infrastructure. There is no common sense in that statement.

In the compact the Bison Range does change management but there is still public access and the county continues to get the “payment in lieu of taxes ” so there is no fiscal impact to the county.

The land swaps he discussed are state lands have no fiscal benefit to the county and also will only happen if OK’d by the state land board. There will be land swaps that make sense and those that don’t.

There is accountability for compact dollars. No money may be spent without submitting a yearly plan to the Department of Interior and an accounting for that plan before new money’s are allocated.

One of the advantages of the compact on the reservation is that all residents will be treated equally in acquiring or changing water rights on the reservation. In other tribal compacts there is not opportunity for significant if any new water rights for non-tribal members.

Verdell goes on to lavish praises on the Montana Water Court and claims most of the state has been adjudicated without controversy. I know many land owners who have had to go to water court to fight for their rights who would not agree it was without controversy and at great cost.

The CSKT have filed senior water rights across the state and on the reservation. The federal government is required to vigorously defend their claims. Not sure how this figures in the no controversy fairy tale. With the compact these extensive water right claims go away and are replaced with negotiated rights that protect Montana citizens.

Verdell also suggests “The only purpose of water compacts is to provide water and water infrastructure to make the reservations productive.”

Verdell doesn’t get to decide what the purpose is and there are list of environmental groups miles long and miles wide the will gladly join the tribe in protecting fisheries across Montana. With the CSKT water compact we know what those rights will be. The court system is a crap shoot.

—Susan Lake and her husband Jack farm 1,000 irrigated acres on the Flathead Indian Reservation