by Karen & Glen Raisland, St Ignatius, Montana
It is no secret that water rights are essential to many Montanans. This is why the CSKT Water Compact is so important.
In 1855, when the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes entered into a treaty (The Treaty of Hellgate) with the United States government, the Flathead Indian Reservation was established. Along with the reservation, the treaty also established that the tribes had certain other rights, including what the U.S. Supreme Court has held are certain instream flow water rights. The CSKT Water Compact, or SB 262, would define these rights through a negotiated agreement, rather than through litigation that would subject Montanans to years of water right uncertainty.
The deadline for these rights to be defined is June 30th of this year, which means that this is the last chance our legislators have to pass an agreement that will protect water right owners from being forced to defend their rights in the Montana Water Court. Without the Compact, the tribe is required by state law to file their claims—and there will be thousands of them that span the state, impacting water users from the Kalispell to Billings and beyond.
And litigating these claims won’t be cheap. It will cost Montana taxpayers millions of dollars to resolve these claims in court, and that doesn’t include the thousands of dollars that individual farmers and ranchers will be forced to pay in order to defend their water rights. For many, the cost of years (possibly decades) of litigation could even mean bankruptcy.
It’s clear that passing the CSKT Water Compact will prevent unnecessary litigation and protect the existing water rights (and pocketbooks) of Montanans.
Legislators, please support your constituents and their livelihoods—support the Compact!