CSKT Negotiated Water Rights Compact – Good for Montana Agriculture

By Jay Bodner, John Youngberg, and Mike Murphy

The success of Montana’s agriculture industry is dependent upon water and water right certainty. It is easily the single most important resource for people across Montana, which is why ratification of the negotiated Montana CSKT Water Compact is critical.

Contrary to what compact opponents are saying the negotiated CSKT Compact provides water right certainty, protects Montana’s water users, and ensures a reliable source of water. When the Flathead Reservation was established water rights were reserved through a federal treaty. The federally reserved water rights of the Tribe must, by law, be defined and quantified either through a negotiated agreement or through litigation in the Montana Water Court. The negotiated CSKT Water Compact defines the water rights and settles the legal claims of the CSKT, preventing long term costly litigation and uncertainty.

Recently, Compact opponents have proposed to replace the long-negotiated CSKT Water Compact that was developed through extensive public participation with a quickly crafted proposal that was developed without general public participation.  Their proposal ignores the fact that a negotiated settlement requires acceptance and approval by all parties.

The CSKT Water Compact, which was passed with bi-partisan support in the Montana State Legislature, after many years of negotiation, is currently awaiting Congressional ratification. The compact provides protection for all existing water rights, prevents decades of expensive litigation, and provides certainty to water users across our state. Comparatively, the proposal recently developed by those who oppose the CSKT Compact was constructed without Tribal, State, and Federal parties at the table and without general public comment. If this proposal were to upend the existing negotiated agreement it would most certainly open the floodgates to possibly decades of expensive litigation—putting the water rights of farmers, ranchers, and water users across our state, at risk.

We respectfully encourage our Congressional delegation to carefully consider the extensive benefits that implementing the long-negotiated Montana CSKT Water Compact will have for Montana’s agriculture industry and move Compact ratification forward, while soundly rejecting the proposal from Compact opponents that was quickly developed without Tribal, State, Federal, or general public participation.

Mike Murphy is the Executive Director of the Montana Water Resources Association.

John Youngberg is the Executive Director of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation.

Jay Bodner is the Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

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