Ronan legislator hopeful state will ratify Flathead water compact

2013-02-28T06:10:00Z 2014-10-19T08:07:16Z Ronan legislator hopeful state will ratify Flathead water compact missoulian.com

HELENA – A contentious water rights agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in western Montana is headed for the Montana Legislature, where its sponsor said Wednesday he’s hopeful it can be ratified.

“What we’re asking people to do is get the real information, to look beyond the rhetoric,” said Rep. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, a farmer on the Flathead Indian Reservation. “The tribes came to the table and looked for ways to make this work. They were good partners in this, because there are a lot of areas where if agreements weren’t there, we’d have to go back and look for other ways to do it.”

Yet Salomon said it may prove more difficult to approve the $55 million in state funding that goes with agreement, most of which pays for improvements to the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.

Salomon will be carrying the bill that ratifies the compact and funds the state’s share of the costs.

On Tuesday night, the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission voted to forward the agreement to the Legislature for ratification.

The agreement, more than 10 years in the making, quantifies the tribes’ water rights both on and off the Flathead Indian Reservation, potentially affecting water users throughout much of western Montana.

The agreement must be ratified by the state, the federal government and the tribes, after which it would be submitted to the state Water Court for inclusion in the court’s final decrees.

Robert McDonald, communications director for the tribes, said Wednesday the tribes chose to give up some of their water rights to reach an agreement that’s best for the entire reservation community, both Indian and non-Indian.

“Getting to this point is remarkable; we’ve come a long ways,” he said. “We hope the Legislature considers what is the best thing for our community.

“These negotiations were built on that sense of community. … I hope the entire community will see through the misinformation that threatens to derail this process.”

Some irrigators on the reservation are opposing the compact, and just last week, a state district judge in Polson ruled that a board representing irrigators cannot agree to the compact without ensuring that water users get compensated for their water rights.

The tribes have asked the Montana Supreme Court to take supervisory control of the case and reverse the judge’s order.

Salomon said his bill to ratify the agreement will have language that says ratification of the compact, if approved by the Legislature, is contingent on the outcome of the lawsuit.

Sen. Debby Barrett, R-Dillon, the only member of the compact commission to vote against sending the compact to the Legislature, said Wednesday there are too many unanswered questions about the compact. She said she’s troubled by the lack of consensus by affected parties on the reservation, and by how the compact puts all water management on the reservation under a five-person board.

Salomon said the agreement should provide certainty for water rights holders across western Montana, and that the compact seeks to protect existing water uses and protect future uses.

Gov. Steve Bullock has proposed using state bonds to finance the state’s $55 million cost of the compact.

Salomon said it will be difficult getting the required two-thirds vote of each House of the Legislature to approve the sale of state bonds. If that can’t be achieved, other financing options may be available, he said, because all of the money may not be needed upfront.

Bullock’s office said he hopes and expects the Legislature “to approve (the compact) as it has every other compact that has come before it in the past.”

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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(8) Comments

  1. random_rez_kid
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    random_rez_kid - March 01, 2013 7:20 am
    Perhaps you could give us a nice summary formerlib, since your preaching makes it sound like you have read the whole compact, and understand its intricacies and their devastating effects. It could help support your unproven fears of negative economical impact.....

    Kerr Dam is also operated under a joint license between PPL and CSKT. PPL essentially leases the land that the dam is on, and the tribe is going to buy the whole thing in 2015. The money is already in the bank for that.

    http://www.pplmontana.com/producing power/power plants/Kerr Dam.htm
  2. fomerliberal
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    fomerliberal - February 28, 2013 1:24 pm
    Hate to break the news to you, but the tribe does NOT own the Kerr Dam or even manage it, evidently you haven't done your homework. Should a few thousand extra bull trout take precedence over the economy of western MT? I am not saying the tribe will take anything away from me as I am not a farmer of rancher. What I am saying is that this compact is so open ended that it could drastically impact the economy on and off the reservation. No matter what your party affiliation is, you should be concerned. Maybe you should spend 20 hours to read the compact and all of it's appendices (about 1200 pages) before you are so sure it is a great idea. And maybe check out who owns the Kerr dam.
  3. Northwoods
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    Northwoods - February 28, 2013 12:54 pm
    What's wrong with clean watersheds former lib? Bull trout declined after the dams constricted their movements, water ways were re constructed for irrigators and logging choked out their pristine habitat. I think it's superfluous to think that the tribe will take anything away from you personally, or any farmer in the Mission Valley for that matter. What do Kerr Dam, Mission Valley Power, S&K Tech./Elec. all have in common? SUCCESS for all, managed and owned by the tribes... get over your conservative agendas... republicans and tea partiers are becoming extinct as we know it.
  4. fomerliberal
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    fomerliberal - February 28, 2013 10:10 am
    You notice Salomon uses words like "should provide certainty" "seeks to protect existing water uses". If he is so confident in the compact's greatness, instead of saying SHOULD provide he would say WILL PROVIDE. Instead of saying SEEKS to protect, he would say WILL PROTECT. Don't you love how they cover their b--ts with the use of certain words? This compact is so open ended it will be later manipulated to do pretty much whatever they want as far as water. Examples may be..... Farmers may no longer be able to use herbicides, etc because the tribe will say it is affecting water quality for Bull tout. They may be required to keep livestock so many hundred feet away from water due to the same. May no longer be able to spread manure on certain fields. May no longer be allowed to till certain fields because silt might enter a stream. Septic permits may be denied because they are within so many hundred feet of a waterway, wetland, etc. These are just a handful of things that are likely to happen it this comapct is approved as is. As written it is a disaster.....
  5. fomerliberal
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    fomerliberal - February 28, 2013 9:14 am
    The other Indian Reservation compacts in MT were passed easily because they were quite simple compared to this one, and the water rights being given were MUCH smaller than this one. I doubt if Mr. Salomon has gone thru the 1100 pages. Just like Nancy Pelosi said 3 years ago, "WE have to pass the healthcare bill so YOU CAN SEE WHAT IS IN IT." I hope the legislators actually read this monstrosity and try to understand it. Salomon thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread because that is what he has been told, not because he knows the compact inside and out. It has many downsides, but if you ask Salomon, he thinks there are none. That tells me all I need to know.. incompetence!!! As written, this may be the biggest water grab ever in the west. The "unintened consequences" down the road will be disatorous. This compact should be MUCH different than the others because the Flathead reservation is an OPEN RESERVATION with about 75% of the population being non-tribal, and a good portion of the reservation is owned by non-tribal members. It is what it is, and the compact needs to take this into consideration. You have two silver tongued lawyers who are responsible for almost all of what is in the compact. They have not considered what is best for ALL parties, but are pretty much putting forth their own agenda of what they as "smart lawyers"think what IS BEST for us peons - both tribal and non-tribal. Their posture and language at meetings is one of arrogance and superiority.
  6. Pistol
    Report Abuse
    Pistol - February 28, 2013 8:49 am
    Your point? I merely wrote because of his ruling this needs to be resolved by the supreme court. No similarity to chicken little.
  7. Northwoods
    Report Abuse
    Northwoods - February 28, 2013 12:21 am
    Quote the law he used to 'stop' this going to the legislator... he's still part of the fearful good ol boys club on this reservation... ever read the story about chicken little?
  8. Pistol
    Report Abuse
    Pistol - February 27, 2013 9:13 pm
    I thought we are a nation of law! The judge ruled parts of the process unconstitutional, until that is ruled on by the Supreme Court of Montana everything should be placed on hold.
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