The choice that our elected officials in the Montana House will be making on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact will have far-reaching impacts for water users across our state. Their choice will either protect the water rights of Montanans, or subject our citizens to long and costly litigation.
Looking at this issue in context of the Gallatin River system only, failure to ratify the CSKT Water Compact will result in senior water right owners in the Gallatin losing their first-in-time, first-in-right priority to Gallatin River water during periods of low flow. Without the compact, water right owners across the state will face similar scenarios.
Given this effect to constituents who own senior water rights (irrigators and municipalities), why would any legislator oppose the CSKT compact? The only answer to date that I have heard from opponents of the compact is they “believe” or “feel” the CSKT treaty language does not create a valid water right for in-stream flows. Unfortunately, what someone “feels” or “believes” won’t protect them in court.
In adopting this position, such opponents are choosing, for whatever reasons, to ignore extensive, well-settled federal law to the contrary. Worse, opponents of the compact, if successful, are forcing senior water right owners who support the compact to re-litigate these issues at their expense. Furthermore, such opponents are completely ignoring or forgetting the compact as drafted results in the CSKT waiving its right to file water right claims in the Gallatin, and in many other areas.
Ratifying the compact will secure and protect existing senior water rights in the Gallatin and prevent a tremendous waste of senior water right owners’ time and resources. I urge our elected officials to please consider the facts, and support the compact.