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Got Water Think Again

The Montana Reserved Rights Compact Commission, established by the 1979 legislature, is planning to propose the negotiated Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) reserved water rights compact to the 2013 Montana legislature for approval.

The 1908 U.S. Supreme Court Winters decision stated that federal reservations of land for any purpose have implied rights to water necessary to fulfill the purpose of the land. This Commission was to determine the water needed to fulfill the purposes of the CSKT Reservation, but the compact has now morphed into 1100 pages of legal documents, maps and water abstracts designed to control most of the water in western Montana through in-stream flows. The amount of water needed to meet the needs of the reservation is still unknown, but CSKT would be given 90,000 acre feet of water which they can lease to others both on and off the Reservation.  A Unitary Management Board is proposed to manage the water rights within reservation boundaries for all interests (tribal, state, federal, and non-tribal) which puts non-tribal people under this Board.  There is also an undetermined cash settlement by Montana taxpayers and the federal government of hundreds of millions.


It’s all about control and money.  The original purpose has been lost.   Eleven western Montana counties, 359,000 people, will have their property rights and economy eroded by this compact. 

The negotiation process would have been less complicated in 1855 when the Hellgate treaty was signed, but now Montana has a constitution, state water laws, existing water rights on and off the reservation and a Montana Water Resources Division.  Also, the demographics have changed: 28,324 people now live on the 1.3 million acre reservation, with 5000 of them tribal members.  Besides the many legal questions

based on the Montana state constitution and water laws there is a lack of information needed to quantify the amount of water needed:  How many tribal members depend on subsistence fishing?  How many Flathead Lake trout are wasted each year on tribal-sponsored Mack Days?  How many acres are presently irrigated on the Reservation?  How many more acres are irrigatable?  Present water rights on the reservation cannot be determined because a CSKT lawsuit several years ago stopped Montana from issuing water rights and there has been no adjudication of existing water rights.

This proposed compact is not fair and equitable as required by law.  Since the Commission expires in July of 2013, I have submitted a bill draft to extend the Commission so that the draft plan can be refocused on the water needs of the reservation, just as it should have been all along.


Verdell Jackson

Flathead County

Senator Jackson has been protecting water rights in the Montana Legislature for 14 years.