Supreme Court stays proceedings in Flathead water compact case

2013-03-01T05:45:00Z 2014-10-19T08:07:16Z Supreme Court stays proceedings in Flathead water compact case missoulian.com

HELENA – The Montana Supreme Court has stepped in to the complex legal battle over a proposed tribal water rights compact on the Flathead Indian Reservation, suspending the case while it decides whether to take control of it.

Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris on Wednesday said all proceeding in the case are on hold, until the high court rules on a request by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes that the court take “supervisory control” of the case.

The order came one day after the tribes asked the court to intervene and overrule a Feb. 15 lower court decision they said could “frustrate” negotiations on the proposed water compact with the tribes.

Morris gave the tribes, the state attorney general and the two parties in the lawsuit until March 14 to comment on the tribes’ request, after which the court will rule on whether to take over the case.

Developments in the legal tussle come just as the proposed water rights compact with the tribes is set to go before the Montana Legislature for possible ratification.

The Legislature is being asked to approve the compact and the state’s $55 million share of its expenses, much of which would go to improve the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project on the Indian reservation in northwestern Montana.

The water rights compact, which has been negotiated for many years, 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.

The legal dispute initially involved two separate groups representing irrigators and landowners on the reservation.

The Western Montana Water Users Association, which says it represents about 150 irrigators of private land on the reservation, sued the Flathead Joint Board of Control and three irrigator associations, saying the latter groups are violating state law as they negotiated with the tribes over the water rights compact.

State District Judge C.B. McNeil of Polson ruled two weeks ago in favor of the Water Users Association, and the Joint Board of Control this week appealed that decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

The tribes, which are not a party in the lawsuit, then asked the Montana Supreme Court to take control of the entire case and overrule McNeil.

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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(4) Comments

  1. prowater
    Report Abuse
    prowater - March 01, 2013 9:23 pm
    @Northwoods. I can think of a dozen tribes that are more advanced than CSKT...no tribe has quantified its water rights by taking someone else's...finally someone exposed what the state and tribal negotiators are doing. Time to go to the MT water court and solve this fair and square.
    @CSKT Native. Wake up. Ever heard of Agenda 21? How much of the millions promised will end up helping you? Its all going to your leadership to pad their pockets. Betcha you haven't even read the compact. how come none of your leadership can defend it except by calling people racist? If its such a good deal, why haven't they told you the details? Get a clue.
  2. Northwoods
    Report Abuse
    Northwoods - March 01, 2013 10:17 am
    Level headed people get things done... name another tribe that has as much going for it as the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes... We have become better at making agreements with the Feds since 1855...Pro-Tip go read the Hell Gate Treaty.
  3. CSKT Native
    Report Abuse
    CSKT Native - March 01, 2013 9:18 am
    I am not sure what to make of this comment by "listen" other than to quote whoever it was that said "governments, like men, should keep their word"....otherwise, the STATE, not the Federal government, is the problem here....the Federal government is required to look out for our best interests...now whether they do that or not for ANY person is a conversation we can probably have (for example how 535 people walked out of the Capital yesterday with unfinished business)...but let's leave Wounded Knee out of it shall we? I have friends who will NEVER forget - they are reminded daily...
  4. listen
    Report Abuse
    listen - February 28, 2013 11:52 pm
    Isn't it amazing how the Indians forget Wounded Knee? Do they think that now because they now can afford attorney bully power the Feds won't s c r e w them? Wake up guys. As long as you reside under Federal rule you'll be s c r e w e d by them just like the rest of US. White, Black, Red,Yellow....funny... I've never seen any person of these colors...only colored as such by...the government?
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