CSKT Water Compact Bill

Vernon Finley, chairman of the Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, speaks at the state Capitol in favor of the CSKT water compact in this 2015 file photo.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

PABLO – The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes say the water compact that settles their claims against the federal government will “create 6,330 jobs and generate $52.9 million in recurring, annual economic activity in Montana,” according to an economic analysis.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., recently introduced the $2.3 billion legislation, which has passed the Montana State Legislature, in Washington, D.C.

The analysis, done by Cascade Economics of Washougal, Washington, says the compact will directly fund more than 130 permanent jobs on the Flathead Indian Reservation, will indirectly fund 500 more, and will indirectly fund 5,700 temporary jobs.

“This legislation will not only benefit the tribes, but all Montanans,” CSKT Chairman Vernon Finley said. “The settlement will bring infrastructure development and economic opportunity to our state and tribal nations, supporting thousands of jobs in the process.”

Cascade Economics said the jobs, and economic activity, would come from federal investment in the restoration of wetlands, conservation, water delivery system maintenance and rehabilitation.

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Funding provided by the federal settlement would be allocated to hundreds of projects, according to CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald, in the following areas:

  • Rehabilitation of the Flathead Indian Irrigation project.

This will include “rehabilitation, modernization, and restoration of resources that have been damaged as a result of negligence and poor management,” the tribes said.

  • Implementation of the water compact.

“The provisions of the compact will be funded through the establishment of a Salish and Kootenai Compact Fund,” according to CSKT. “The amount appropriated through the federal settlement legislation will provide for all financial needs associated with implementation of the compact, so no annual appropriation would be necessary.”

  • Agricultural development.

Say the tribes, “The federal government has largely ignored its trust responsibility to manage tribal agricultural resources. The legislation introduced by Sen. Tester will in part be allocated to the formation of an Agricultural Development Account, which will be used to construct and improve livestock fencing on reservation lands, control the spread of noxious weeds, construct improvements to irrigation systems, and install screens or other barriers to prevent fish entrainment.

  • Community development.

A Community Development Account will also be established to provide education services and support language centers on the Flathead Reservation, according to CSKT.

  • Economic development.

“Funds approved by the settlement that are allocated to the Economic Development Trust Fund will be used primarily to plan, design and construct fresh drinking water and wastewater systems within the reservation, and to improve or replace local water distribution and wastewater treatment centers,” the tribes say.

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Michael Taylor of Cascade Economics says the compact involves commitments to fulfill the tribes’ instream flow water right while maintaining historic consumptive use requirements of irrigation project irrigators.

Those irrigators have been split, sometimes pitting neighbor against neighbor, with some strongly endorsing the compact and others strongly opposed to it.

The compact “also provides a legal framework for development of new uses of water on both fee and trust lands,” according to Taylor. “Inherent in this compact are infrastructure improvements and new construction, rehabilitation, restoration and environmental enhancement that support the compact’s implementation.

“Furthermore, the water settlement results in creation of new positions associated with data collection, monitoring, operations, management and administration. All of the investments and implementation represent an infusion of capital to the area that have lasting impact on the local and regional economy.”

In addition to the $52.9 million in annual economic activity, Cascade Economics predicts there would be an additional $774.2 million of economic activity during the compact’s first decade of implementation.

“Our tribes are committed to being good neighbors and this settlement is proof of our intention to find a solution that will benefit both our tribal members as well as our friends and fellow Montanans across the state,” Finley said in the press release announcing the analysis. “We look forward to Congress’s consideration of the proposed legislation and to working together as the compact ratification and settlement legislation move forward.”

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