State Supreme Court Halts Tribal Water Rights Case

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Supreme Court halted all proceedings for the tribal water rights case on the Flathead Indian Reservation on Wednesday. The case is suspended pending further review by the state Supreme Court.

The decision came in response to a request by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for the high court to step in following a recent district court water rights ruling. In its filing, the tribe alleged “erroneous district court proceedings that frustrated the compact negotiation process that is recognized by the state Supreme Court and the Montana Legislature.”

CSKT officials said the tribe and the federal government are inextricably intertwined regarding water rights, but the district court did not consider this and other pertinent matters of law. The filing states the district court erred in law by determining water rights ownership of some unnamed irrigators all without necessary and indispensable parties such as the Tribes and the United States.

“Evidently, the Montana Supreme Court felt the matter was of such a significance that the high court issued a ruling in less than 24 hours after our to filing,” John Carter, attorney for CSKT, said in a statement.

The Petition for Writ of Supervisory Control to the Montana Supreme Court was filed Tuesday in response to a Feb. 15 district court ruling by Judge C.B. McNeil on water rights and the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.

On Wednesday, the Montana Supreme Court ordered the District Court, the Joint Board of Control defendants, Western Montana Water Users Association LLC, plaintiff, and the State Attorney General’s office to prepare, file and serve a response to the petition 15 days from the Supreme Court order issued Feb. 27. The responses are due March 14.

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