by Dr. Ed Berry
In a public letter published on March 1, former Montana Governor Marc Racicot announced his support of the CSKT Water Compact. Racicot was Montana’s governor from 1993 to 2001. Before that, he was Attorney General.
Racicot confirms the wisdom of supporting the Compact. Governor Racicot confirms the critical facts about the Compact that Compact opponents deny. All Montana’s top attorneys, Republican and Democrat, support the Compact. Only Montana’s Tea-Party Republican radicals lack the wisdom to understand facts and why the Compact will be a significant benefit to Montana.
Here are Governor Racicot’s main points.
The proposed CSKT Compact is the last of many compacts Montana has signed with the Tribes. All compacts have been in the best interests of Montanans.
This Compact, like those that preceded it, is a bipartisan agreement. Both (real) Republicans and Democrats support it. The Compact clarifies the federally reserved water rights of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and ensures nontribal water access and water rights protection.
Attorney General Tim Fox extensively reviewed the Compact and confirmed it complies with the US and Montana Constitutions. Fox confirmed the Compact will help Montanans while its rejection would require the CSKT to seek the clarification of their water rights in the Montana Water Court.
Governor Steve Bullock extensively reviewed the CSKT Compact and has come to the same conclusion as AG Fox, that the compact defines and quantifies the rights of the tribes while also protecting Montana’s farmers, ranchers, and water users from expensive litigation that would likely continue for decades.
Montana representatives made many important changes to the Compact since 2013. Attorney General Fox and Senator Chas Vincent from Libby carefully scrutinized the compact to address opponents’ concerns and to remove any doubt that the interests of all Montanans are clearly represented and protected.
The Compact will ensure that irrigators receive water at the same level as their historic consumptive use. It provides irrigators a guaranteed delivery entitlement that can be transferred with the land through sale or when the property is passed down from one generation to the next.
The compact protects private property by its protection of existing water rights. Water rights uncertainty, as we have without the Compact decreases the amount buyers are willing to pay for property by 9 to 12 percent. If legislators reject the Compact, the resulting long, costly litigation would decrease property values.
If the legislators reject the compact, individuals, farmers, ranchers, and water users, will expend millions of dollars on litigation that will inevitably continue for decades.
If the legislature approves the Compact, it will save Montanans millions of dollars (billions according to the estimate of attorney Hertha Lund). The Compact preserves the right of those who wish to pursue litigation – whereas rejection of the compact will cause expensive and time-consuming litigation in state and federal courts.
The CSKT made many concessions in the Compact that will be advantageous for Montana’s irrigators.
Compact rejection would prove exponentially more costly for Montana taxpayers and the CSKT, and would continue to strain our communities and relationships.
Governor Racicot encourages Montana legislators to approve the water compact between the CSKT and the State of Montana.