After a troubled, drawn-out election, two incumbents have held on to their seats on the Flathead Irrigation District's Board of Commissioners.
This spring, two of the irrigation district's five commissioners, David Lake and Janette Rosman, were up for re-election, respectively facing off against Bill Hocker and Gene Lowder. Members of the irrigation district receive one vote for each irrigable acre, and this year's votes were originally supposed to be tallied on May 7.
But when Lake County Elections Administrator Katie Harding prepared to print the ballots, she discovered that the irrigation district's data had 19,000 fewer acres than data from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
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Lake County officials determined that the irrigation district had failed to update its data during a recent period of internal conflict and management turnover. To avoid legal trouble, they put the vote on hold while they reviewed the data. They had completed this task by late May, mailed out the ballots June 26 and collected them on Wednesday.
In the end, the two incumbents held on. Lake got 33,221 votes to Hocker's 19,825, while Rosman got 30,176 to Lowder's 22,164. Both Rosman and Lake support the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' Water Compact, a massive agreement that quantifies the tribes' water rights on and off the Flathead Indian Reservation. State lawmakers approved it in 2015 after much debate. It now awaits federal and tribal ratification, and remains a contentious issue in the Mission and Flathead valleys.
The Flathead is one of three irrigation districts that draw water from the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. The other two districts, Mission and Jocko, voted to operate together by creating a new joint board of control.