Legislative Review, Agriculture Research Funding, CSKT Water Compact | Podcast

PodcastOn this week’s Stockgrowers Podcast, Ryan Goodman and Jay Bodner begin reviewing the 64th Montana Legislative Session, which adjourned on Tuesday, April 28. This week Ryan and Jay discuss major funding for agriculture research in the state (HB 403 with $2.4 million for infrastructure; $15 million from budgets go to research initiatives) and we give an outlook for the CSKT Water Compact as it heads to Congress.

Also, we provide a look at this year’s MidYear Meeting, which takes place in Bozeman, June 4-6. Find MidYear information and registration on our events page.

Senate Committee Passes SB 262 on CSKT Water Compact

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee took executive action on Senate Bill 262 (Implement CSKT water rights settlement). The bill passed committee by a vote of 8-4 and will now advance to the Senate floor.

Republican Senators Chas Vincent (Libby, bill sponsor), Doug Kary (Billings) and Nels Swandal (Wilsall) joined Democrats Robyn Driscoll (Billings), Cliff Larsen (Missoula), Mary McNally (Billings), Mary Sheehy Moe (Great Falls) and Diane Sands (Missoula) to vote in support of the bill. We encourage you to reach out to these Senators in appreciation for the support of this important piece of legislation.

As you know, Montana Stockgrowers Association came out in support of the CSKT Water Compact last month. You can read our press release here.

On Monday of this week, the President Gene Curry testified in support of the Compact, SB 262, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He outlined why the Stockgrowers Association supports this critical legislation:

  • The compact includes numerous protections for historic water users that would not be available through litigation.
  • In those cases where the CSKT are granted off reservation rights with a time in memorial priority date, the rights are limited in a manner to protect historic water use
  • If the compact is not ratified, water right claims filed by the CSKT will likely be larger, more senior and likely encompass a greater area of the state.
  • Regardless the outcome of the litigation it will be expensive, lengthy and disruptive to the current adjudication process

“It is important to pass this critical piece of legislation and not force thousands of family ranchers in similar situations of this type of litigation,” said Curry during his testimony.

To protect Montana’s ranchers, we need YOU to Take Action in support of the Compact.

Call your Senator and House members today and tell them to support the Compact – (406) 444-4800. Let them know that the compact is the right choice for ranchers. Individual contact information can be found on the Montana Legislature’s website.

For more information on the compact, you can go to the DNRC website and read more. MSGA will share more information about the compact in next week’s member newsletter.

Stockgrowers Joins Montana Agriculture Organizations in Support of Compact

(Helena, Mont.)— The Montana Stockgrowers Association, representing the business interests of Montana’s cattle ranching sector, and the foremost organization representing Montana’s water users, the Montana Water Resources Association, have joined forces with the Montana Farm Bureau Federation to support the state of Montana’s proposed Water Compact with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).

“The Stockgrowers Association conducted a thorough legal analysis of the current CSKT Water Compact and through that analysis, our organization is supporting this Compact,” said Gene Curry, President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “It is important to protect historic water uses on and off the reservation and provide some certainty for all water right holders in Montana.”

The support of the Stockgrowers comes after the Montana Farm Bureau Federation declared their support of the Compact during the January 12th meeting of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission and the Commission’s unanimous vote to move the Compact to the Montana State Legislature for further approval.

“We were very diligent in our review of the Compact and the impact it would have on our members if passed,” said Montana Farm Bureau Federation spokeswoman Chelcie Cremer. “Montana’s farmers and ranchers depend on reliable access to water to preserve their livelihoods.  The Compact will protect Montana’s agricultural industries and ensure water rights certainty for future generations.”

The Montana Water Resources Association also joined in supporting the Compact, citing the protection of private property and water rights that the Compact provides.

“If the Compact fails irrigators and water users will be forced to shoulder the costs of the litigation that will result,” said Mike Murphy of the Montana Water Resources Association. “Specifically, the Compact provides provisions that protect irrigators both on and off the reservation and ensure they are able to obtain access to the water resources they need. Protection of water and other property rights is of utmost importance to our organization and is an important aspect of why we support passing the Compact.”

“We are excited that the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Water Resources Association have joined FARM and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation in supporting the CSKT Water Compact,” said FARM Co-Chair and long-time Stockgrowers member, Lorents Grosfield. “These groups uniting shows that passing the Compact is truly for the benefit of all Montanans and will protect the interests of Montana’s farmers and ranchers.”

The support of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Water Resources Association for the Compact shows the continued growth of support for the Compact among the agriculture community, irrigators, and water users across the state.

Farmers and Ranchers for Montana (FARM) is a grassroots coalition of farmers and ranchers, united with local leaders, Indian tribes, businesses and other Montanans committed to fair water policies and the approval of a Water Compact that quantifies and secures water access to the benefit of all Montanans. For more information visit www.montanawatercompact.com

(Joint Press Release with Farmers and Ranchers for Montana)

Ranchers Roll Into Billings for MSGA Convention

Ranchers were rolling into Billings for the first day of MSGA’s 130th Annual Convention. Thursday’s agenda was filled with Cattlemen’s Colleges workshops, a Young Stockgrowers meeting, along with Membership and Land Use policy committees and the Opening Trade Show Dinner. Friday’s agenda will be highlighted by Beef Production & Marketing and Ag Policy committees. Governor Steve Bullock is scheduled to speak at Opening General Session and Cattlemen’s College workshops continue through Saturday. Be sure to see yesterday’s post for a list of those speakers.

MSGA Board Member, Ray Marxer welcomes the Land Use & Environment Committee on Thursday of Annual Convention

MSGA Board Member, Ray Marxer welcomes the Land Use & Environment Committee on Thursday of Annual Convention

During the Membership Committee meeting, attendees heard from a number of researchers and extension specialists from the Montana State University system. Montana’s research and extension program continue to leaders in the nation when it comes to contributions in the cattle industry. Research efforts continue to investigate aspects of cattle and ranch management and our extension programs are working hard to make that information available to the ranching communities.

The conversations in the Land Use & Environment policy committee were dominated by sage grouse conservation and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Water Compact. Ranchers across the state may be affected in different manners by possible future agreements. Attendees spent much of the afternoon listening to updates from those familiar with the topics and discussed on how Sage Grouse management and the Compact may affect land owners and water rights in different regions of Montana. The Land Use Committee will continue Friday morning with land owner and land use topics, as well as program updates from several state agencies.

Montana State Map ConventionWe invite everyone to join us for the next two days to celebrate our 130th year. As you are at the registration desk, be sure to mark your spot on the state map so we can see where Convention attendees are traveling from across Montana. Be sure to look at our Convention programs for a full meeting agenda, or view an abbreviated version in our Online Agenda.

Montana Water Policy Updates – Ditches, CSKT, Adjudication and More

Montana water ranching updatesThe following update is taken from our Land Use & Environment Committee meetings during Mid Year in Miles City last month, courtesy of Krista Lee Evans, Blake Creek Project Management. Krista was generous enough to provide our members an update via video conference using Google’s Hangout On Air product. Our ranchers were able to see and listen to Krista’s update even though she wasn’t able to physically be in Miles City with us. It’s great to see ranchers embracing technology, which allows us to open more doors for better communication.

Listen to Krista’s presentation and a following Q&A session on the podcast at the end of this post.

Ditches – Rep Connell is continuing to push for a change in ditch rights.  This issue was in front of the Water Policy Interim Committee as HJ 26.  A recent Colorado Supreme Court decision was discussed in detail. The decision provided for a three-pronged test that if met a property owner could move a ditch with consent of the ditch easement owner.  AGAI and Montana Water Resources Association both opposed the approach of trying to “balance the property rights” due to the fact that as dominant estate owners, we have purchased the easement right and there should be no “balancing”.  I also suggested that if property owners do not want a ditch on their property then they should buy unencumbered property.

CSKTCSKT has filed a lawsuit in federal district court stating that they not only own the water rights for the water going through the reservation but they own the water.  This will be a significant issue in the court and we need to pay attention.  There are some interested in continuing negotiations with the tribe but there are others that are unwilling to continue negotiations.  The tribe has stated publically that they would still move forward with the negotiated compact but they are not willing to make significant changes (other than dealing with the management of the irrigation project).

The water policy interim committee has created a work group to review the model used during negotiations.  The work group will report back to WPIC with any questions, concerns, or suggestions.

Adjudication Funding – The Water Court and DNRC came to the Environmental Quality Council meeting outlining the future of the adjudication.  The examination is done.  This is a huge accomplishment and was completed a year ahead of the statutory deadline.  The Water Court did issue an order for reexamination of the verified basins.  In order to complete the adjudication through the first decree phase in all basins as well as decree enforcement support from the DNRC to the Water Court additional funding will be needed.  The two entities are going to request $14.6 Million.  They did not disclose where they want to get the money.

State Water Plan – Different basins have put together their proposals based on different interest groups input.  As this comes into a final statewide plan, we need to be fully engaged.  There are significant suggestions in these various basin plans including:

  1. Having a professional staff of water commissioners that are under the control of the water court or DNRC.
  2. Requiring water quality monitoring at all stream gauging stations.
  3. Requiring a minimum instream flow
  4. Requiring statewide measurement devices.
  5. Prioritizing the types of beneficial uses.
  6. Requiring a change of use to go from flood to sprinkler.

Water Court Role – The Water Court is having multiple discussions across the state discussing expanding the role of the water court.  Expansions being discussed include having the water court handle all appeals from DNRC rather than the district court, having all water commissioners managed by the water court, and multiple other items.  I would suggest that the water court needs to finish its existing job of completing the adjudication before it takes on any additional responsibilities.

For more information about how MSGA represents Montana ranchers on water policy issues, please contact our Director of Natural Resources, Jay Bodner, at jay@mtbeef.org.