Gold Enough for Everyone

The reality of the western United States is that water is clearly the new gold

By Pat Witkowski

Montana is dangerously exposed to serious environmental and economic challenges. Of the lower 48, Montana is the third largest in area, the sixth smallest in population, and the second lowest in population density. Increasing population, increasing illegal immigration, increasing scarcity of water, seasonally poor air quality, toxic wastes, heightened risks from wildfires, forest deterioration, losses of soil and its nutrients, damage from introduced pest species, and the federal government owning one quarter of the land in the state, challenge Montana on a daily, unrelenting and expanding basis. While Montana is beautiful, it is an agriculturally non-competitive land. Low rainfall resulting in lower rates of plant growth makes Montana produce and livestock more expensive than other food and livestock producing areas of the U.S. Irrigation is the largest consumptive water use in Montana. About 15 percent of Montana’s cropland and pastureland is irrigated. The Clark Fork is the largest river by volume in Montana. Nearly 40 percent of all irrigated lands in the Clark Fork basin are located in the Flathead River watershed.

The reality of the western United States is that water is clearly the new gold. And Montanans need to have their precious gold under close administration, protection and control. Accordingly, the statehouse and legislators in Helena and Montana’s representatives in Washington DC, along with various state and federal courts should be working in concert with Montanans to ensure 100 percent state control of Montana’s water. Montana’s elected officials need to be proactive agents armed with the political will and the vision to create and adjudicate equitable, innovative approaches to quantify water use, establish water banks for farmers or irrigators, protect land deed water rights, replace the cradling and crushing reservation system in the state, and thereby giving aboriginal cultures independence from ineffectual and rapacious federal agencies and opiating and unsustainable federal subsidies, and nurture the proactive participation of all citizens.

Montanans must marshal and muster all forces, might and right to make Montana magnificent. Montanans must insist that PPL withdraw the CKST purchase option for Kerr Dam. Keep the operation of the dam under the aegis of the citizens and expand opportunities for new citizen shareholders. Montanans must insist that Helena put the feds on notice that the only correct action in Missoula Judicial District Division court is to dismiss the latest “end around” by the aboriginal culture – CKST V. UNITED STATES.

Water is the key and it belongs equally to all Montanans. Reduce federal ownership of Montana. Stop federal overreach on all fronts. Neither Helena nor the federal government can enter into compacts that create loss of equal protection under the law for its citizens. Make water a revenue source for all Montanans. Montana’s citizens deserve equality in standing as to Montana’s natural resources, an equality that takes account of the weight of Montana’s challenges associated with sustaining economic growth and becoming stewards of Montana’s fragile and exposed environmental issues. Only through equality can Montanans muster the intellectual and emotional mettle to finally break free of the federal stranglehold and survive as a great state.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.