2 irrigation districts withdraw from Flathead board in water rights battle

2013-06-18T05:45:00Z 2014-10-19T08:07:14Z 2 irrigation districts withdraw from Flathead board in water rights battle missoulian.com

ST. IGNATIUS – Two of the three irrigation districts that make up the Flathead Joint Board of Control have voted to end their participation in it, the latest twist in an ongoing battle over water rights on the Flathead Indian Reservation – and an illustration of the deep divide among irrigators and others.

Representatives of the Jocko Valley and Mission irrigation districts both voted 2-1 to withdraw from their written contractual agreements with the joint board. It takes effect in 90 days, although opponents are questioning the legality of the meetings.

The moves would end more than a quarter of a century where the three districts have combined to work on issues affecting some 1,500 irrigators on the reservation.

They operated separately for more than 60 years prior to the joint board’s creation in the 1980s.

In an op-ed piece submitted to Montana newspapers Monday explaining the withdrawal, Jocko and Mission district chairmen Kerry Doney and Jerry Johnson said a tape recorder left running for 45 minutes after the joint board’s June 10 meeting revealed new board members and new leadership discussing the Jocko and Mission districts and the Cooperative Management Entity that oversees the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project “with disparaging and sarcastic terms.”

“Even worse,” the letter charges, “the CSKT (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) and Indian people were discussed in very ugly tones, with one of the new leaders declaring that Indians weren’t Americans and others making similar statements. The Jocko Valley Irrigation District and the Mission Irrigation District cannot tolerate this behavior.”

Irrigators are at odds over a proposed Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact between the state, the federal government and CSKT that stalled in the Montana Legislature this year, and a separate proposed water use agreement between the tribes and irrigators.

In May, two candidates opposed to the compact and water use agreement were elected to the board, with one of them ousting a 27-year incumbent who had served as chairman of the joint board for 24 years.

That turned a 7-5 majority on the joint board that favored the compact and agreement, into a 7-5 majority opposed to both.

***

Jerry Laskody, part of the new majority, said he has no knowledge of disparaging remarks being made after the June 10 joint board meeting.

“I doubt it was said, and if it was it was taken out of context,” Laskody said Monday. “If people were standing around talking after a meeting, how do they even know it was a commissioner? This is not a racial issue, and these guys are trying to inflame it. It’s just a smokescreen to divert attention from the real issue, which is that this is a bad compact and it’s bad for irrigators.”

Doney and Johnson argue that the lack of a compact and water use agreement will heap dramatic cost increases on the irrigators they represent.

As the two meetings began in separate reservation towns, both the Jocko and Mission district boards were served with writs of prohibition, signed by Lake County District Court Judge C.B. McNeil, enjoining either from voting on any motion concerning the water rights compact.

The writs were sought by the Western Montana Waters Users Association, a group working against the compact and water use agreement. McNeil had issued a similar order in February that enjoined the joint board from taking a similar vote, a ruling that the Montana Supreme Court overturned in April.

Neither meeting agenda Friday had such a vote planned.

The Flathead Irrigation District – the largest of the three – is the third entity that makes up the joint board. It has five elected representatives, four of whom oppose the compact and agreement.

The smaller Jocko Valley and Mission districts each have three elected representatives, and the joint board also appoints a 12th at-large member.

In Arlee, Jocko District members Doney and Roger Christopher voted to withdraw from the joint board. Boone Cole, the new chairman of the joint board and also a representative from the Jocko District, voted against the motion.

Cole “advocated for a delay in the withdrawal vote until after the FJBC attempted to reopen negotiations with the tribes,” according to a news release announcing the decision. He also “cautioned participants about the seriousness of this move and urged everyone to study the pros and cons more carefully.”

The release said opponents see the withdrawal as undermining efforts to obtain an agreement more favorable to irrigators, while proponents were concerned about the costs, community divisiveness and uncertainty associated with trying to reopen talks.

In St. Ignatius, Mission District members Johnson and M. Paul Wadsworth voted to withdraw. Laskody, who defeated longtime Flathead Joint Board chairman Walt Schock in May, opposed the motion.

***

On Monday, Doney said his vote to withdraw was as much a financial concern for irrigators as anything.

Without the proposed water use agreement in place, Doney said, low-cost power for operating the Flathead River Pumping Plant will be lost in 2015, and the price of electricity for the plant could jump by $3 to $4 per acre a year for irrigators.

The rub, he added, is that irrigators in the Jocko and Mission districts help pay for the pumping costs, but don’t get any of the water. It goes into the Pablo feeder canal, and to irrigators in the Flathead district.

“That’s an extra expense we won’t have now,” Doney said. “We may have already missed the boat on money to fix the (Flathead Indian Irrigation) Project. That’s still up in the air.”

Combined with potential litigation costs without a water compact and water use agreement in place, Doney says he’s worried about sustaining agriculture in the Jocko Valley, “be it hay, grain or cattle.

“The FJBC spent millions litigating instream flows in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” Doney and Johnson wrote in their op-ed piece. “The FJBC lost. We believe the FJBC will lose again and we do not want to pay for more litigation.”

Doney and Johnson said opponents of the compact and agreement have indicated they believe litigation is not only inevitable, but preferable.

“We believe that with the new leadership and direction of the FJBC, the time has come for us to operate as we did for the first 60 years of our existence,” Doney and Johnson wrote. “We will work cooperatively and respectfully with the CSKT, the U.S. and Montana to ensure that our irrigators have an economical, secure supply of water for their needs and we will work with those parties to ensure that the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project has a viable future, with much needed repair and rehabilitation work paid by state and federal dollars.”

Laskody said the Jocko and Mission meetings were called “with less than” 24 hours notice, which he said is only allowed in an emergency situation.

“This was not an emergency,” Laskody said. “They’re going to leave everything in chaos. They’re creating a situation that will jeopardize our ability to get a good agreement.”

Proponents say the best possible agreement, negotiated “in good faith” over the course of the past decade, is what is in jeopardy, and the chaos will come when the courts try to sort it all out in the absence of the compact and agreement.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or by email at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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(8) Comments

  1. missionblue
    Report Abuse
    missionblue - August 30, 2014 9:44 am
    The big bad wolf, black people and Indians, oh so frightening. You manipulate the bible to suit your will. Unfortunately your will has no relationship with your morality. You cannot honor one, not one single treaty that has been made with Natives throughout this entire country. More, more, more and it's still not enough. Pollute the oceans and make animals extinct and live in fear that someone is going to steal your bread. So now you stir fear and creat confusion among your boards- you throw smoke and believe that when it settles you will end up with something that is not yours. Never was. Problem is, you might be confused about the treaty but the tribes are not. Never were. They knew what belonged to them the whole time. Still do. Keep trying. Stir your hate and fear- but in the mean time your neighbors have work to do cutting the last crop of hay before fall.
  2. j2
    Report Abuse
    j2 - June 19, 2013 3:06 pm
    Trudy Samuelson made a statement at today's meeting in reference to the "inability" of the irrigators to comprehend the water-compact agreement. When asked if she was claiming that the board was "too stupid" to manage their own water rights, Boone chimed in with "yes she is and she is correct." I have to question a man who sits at the chair of the JBC and has no faith in his intellectual ability. However, he seems to have no problem using his "level of intelligence" to make decisions that affect many. At the end of the meeting he was questioned about his derogatory comments towards Native Americans (whom he represents as part of the JBC) and he said "keep the tape recorder on again."
  3. j2
    Report Abuse
    j2 - June 18, 2013 10:44 pm
    Helopilot-
    Where is the proof behind all of your alleged "under-the-table" deals? The only substantial proof behind this petty fight you have started seems to be on the post-meeting recordings and it will speak for itself!
  4. jimira
    Report Abuse
    jimira - June 18, 2013 5:49 pm
    Another uninformed comment for formerliberal,,, First the Tribe pays in lieu of taxes money to Lake Co. Also, each school receives money for each Tribal student. You better do some research and see how much the State of Montana receives from the Fed. This state would be in the dumper if it wasn't for help from Uncle Sam... Another item you conveniently forget is what would you expect in return for a right you are giving up. If you, formerliberal were told to give up a right, you would be crying to anyone and everyone. What?! Are you mad because small pox blankets and trinkets are not going to work this time? The whole tax issue is played out. We pay taxes just not state and if you ever look at a sign stating where the funding for a road project came from, the overwhelming majority is Fed. The Tribe is the good neighbor on the Rez and finally some other non members are starting to reciprocate. So take your uninformed opinion walking...
  5. fomerliberal
    Report Abuse
    fomerliberal - June 18, 2013 2:46 pm
    Doney and Johnson wrote. “.......to ensure that the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project has a viable future, with much needed repair and rehabilitation work paid by state and federal dollars.”......

    "Paid for by state and federal dollars" - in other words by the taxpayers. So we taxpayers not only pay to keep the Flathead Reservation afloat, we also pay to have water delivered to farmers and ranchers. Maybe the resrvation and irrigators should both become self sufficient and pay their own way??? Just a thought. I don't know about you but I am tired of taxpayers subsidizing thousands of special interest groups and projects. Another little tidbit.. non-tribal members on the rez pay property taxes through the nose, while most tribal members do not pay property taxes or even vehicle regisatration/plate fees (it's a very small fee for them while we pay hundreds for the same thing. Yet they take advantage of all the benefits that derive from the property taxes... Like schools, roads, landfill and on and on. And they get to vote to raise our taxes on top of it. I guess it's a good thing something 45% OF THE LAND ON THE REZ IS PRIVATE
  6. helopilot
    Report Abuse
    helopilot - June 18, 2013 9:53 am
    Lot of people have no clue to the under the table deals being done on this water issue, Support the compact and we the tribe will buy your land, RIGHT Mr. Wadsworth. Support our Compact and the Bonniville Power will buy your land, RIGHT Mr. Wadsworth.
    Mr Mikkleson you support the Compact and we will give you a position with the new purposed Flathead water board. It's all about selling out the irrigators, they will raise the instream flows to punish us, Right Jerry Johnston..........Lies, Lies, and more Lies. We have Water rights here, Alan Mikkelson and attorney for the tribe changed the dates on water certificates to give a priority date that would give the tribes the advantage, this was done at the DNRC in Kalispell, There is alot going on under the table here.
  7. jimira
    Report Abuse
    jimira - June 18, 2013 7:52 am
    Boone can wait till the cows come home. The tribes will not renegotiate, we have given ENOUGH. If anyone at the FJBC think they have a chance, look up the Klamath tribe in Oregon. They don't even have land but they kept water rights.
  8. Northwoods
    Report Abuse
    Northwoods - June 18, 2013 12:35 am
    Try faith and not fear... an agreement made in good faith is just that... fear is an unreasonable response in reasonable circumstances. Doney et. al are being rationale by seperating themselves from those with little to no faith. History shows those with little faith tend to attack their opponents for ambiguous slights.
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