by Alfred DuMontier, Arlee, Montana
Nobody should have to waste their hard earned money on unnecessary and avoidable litigation. Not passing the CSKT Water Compact will make it necessary for water users to appear in court to defend their water rights. This will cost taxpayers millions and individual farmers and ranchers thousands, not to mention the decades it will take to see that litigation to an end.
While some have made claims that the legal consequences of not passing the Compact are mere threats, unfortunately this is not the case. Unless an agreement is reached on how best to define the federally reserved tribal water rights, they will have to file claims in the Montana Water Court to clarify their rights. The deadline for this agreement to be reached is June 30th, 2015—just a few short months away.
Passing the CSKT Water Compact, which has been the product of years of extensive negotiations and stakeholder input, will meet the June 30th deadline and prevent the tribes from having to file their claims.
Because the filing of tribal claims in mandated by state law if the Compact fails, the scenario that will play out is that the tribe will file their claims, and in areas where their claims overlap with existing water rights, those individuals will have to engage in adjudication to preserve their water rights, even if they have been through successful litigation in the past.
In this instance, off-reservations water users are at risk for getting significantly fewer water rights than if the Compact passes because they will be defending their existing water right against the right of the tribe, which, in most cases, will predate the right of senior water right holders.
Our water right owners deserve to have their rights protected and passing the Compact will do just that.