We take many things in our society for granted — but we can’t afford our water to be one of them.

Irrigators in the Gallatin Valley, and across the state, don’t just depend on access to water, they depend on the certainty of being able to use it now and in the future. Our family farms and ranches, municipalities and industrial users rely on our water rights for our livelihood. Montana’s water users need to know whether they will be able to utilize water at historic levels, even in times of water shortage and whether that access/use can be transferred from one generation to the next. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Reserved Water Compact provides this certainty and protects the water users of today and tomorrow.

The compact protects all existing water rights. It doesn't create new water rights or alter existing ones in the Gallatin, but ensures that the existing rights and historical uses of Montana’s water users are upheld and protected. Through the compact the tribes have agreed to co-own a few specific in-stream flow rights with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks instead of seeking sole ownership. None of the co-owned instream rights are in the Gallatin. Additionally, with the compact the tribes have agreed that they will not litigate instream flows that exist off of the reservation — meaning Gallatin irrigators won’t have to go back to the Water Court, again.

By releasing more water from Hungry Horse Reservoir to be used on tribal lands and in other water short basins, Montana water users will benefit from the availability of additional water resources that the compact provides. Without the compact the use of this water remains at the discretion of the federal government.

However, should the compact fail, irrigators will be subject to more uncertainty than perhaps any other stakeholder group impacted by the CSKT Water Compact. If the compact does not pass, much of the adjudication that has already been settled by the Montana Water Court will have to be revisited and a minimum of 35 basin decrees will have to be reopened – including the Gallatin. This will unquestionably hurt irrigators, individually forcing us back into the adjudication process – even though we thought we were done. Not only will much of the work done by the Montana Water Court have to be re-examined, but with the filing of an overwhelming number of new claims it will take decades to complete the adjudication process.

The compact has many benefits that are the product of extensive negotiations and cooperative efforts between all parties involved. With input from irrigators, farmers, ranchers, and water users from every corner of the state, the CSKT Water Compact is the best option for all Montanans. With such positive impacts on the line and the future of our water hanging in the balance, we have an obligation to pass the CSKT Water Compact — not just for the protections that it will offer to water users across the state today, but for the opportunities it preserves for the farmers, ranchers and irrigators of tomorrow.

Walt Sales is a fourth-generation farmer in the Gallatin Valley near Bozeman. He is the current director and a founding member of the Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators and a co-chair of Farmers And Ranchers for Montana.

His opinion was signed by the following irrigators and water users in the Gallatin Valley: Al Lien, Alan English, Alan Venema, Becky Weed, Bill Kimm, Bill Tatarka, Brian Dunning, Chris Stucky, Clark V. Johnson, Curtis Dykstra, Cynthia K. Johnson, Dale Flikkema, Dan McReynolds, Dan Triemstra, Dan Triemstra, Darren Braaksma, David Pruitt, Don Vaniman, Doug Alberda, Doug Braaksma, Doug Dyk, Duane Burkenpas, Eileen Flikkema, Elizabeth Triemstra, Eugene Cole, Gabriel Ditch, Gallatin Conservation District, Gary Paulson, George Alberda, Glen Droge, Glen Droge, Greg Braaksma, Greg Leep, Ilene Casey, James House, Jason Kimm, Jennifer Mohler, Joe Axtell, John Hunziker, John Mahoney, John Schutter, John Venhuizen, Jon Alberda, Knife River, Larry Klompien, LaVonne Stucky, Les McCartney, Louise Smith, Mark Huyser, Mark Kimm, Maynard Flikkema, Mick Seeburg, Mike Gaffke, Pamela Hainsworth, Rick Braaksma,  Rod Triestra, Sherwin Leep, Sid Kamps, Sid Schutter, Spain Ferris Ditch Company, Spencer Smith, Spring Creek Farms, Steve VanDyken, Susan Duncan, and White Ditch Company. 

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