Through independent research and analysis, Montana Stockgrowers, the Montana Farm Bureau, and the Montana Chamber of Commerce have determined that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Water Compact is in the best interest of Montana. These groups prioritized the needs of Montana business and industry, farms and ranches, and the families they support over out-of-state agendas.
The 2015 drought in western Montana provides an opportunity to apply the provisions of the water compact to all affected parties before final ratification.
This summer western Montana irrigators pumped millions of gallons of irrigation water to sustain our water-parched crops. No western Montana off reservation irrigator was asked to stop using water this summer and ratification of the compact would not have changed this.
The compact (SB262) protects current water usages – residential, municipal, and irrigation wells less than 100 gallons per minute.
In-stream flow rights are not a new fabrication of the compact. Currently, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) already has in-stream flow rights, minimum river flows needed to keep fish alive, on 14 streams in northwest Montana. The compact requires that the CSKT share their existing rights with Montana FWP. To date, there has not been a single occurrence where an off reservation, western Montana water right holder has had to limit their water usage because of these pre-existing minimum stream levels. The compact does not change this dynamic and northwest Montana farmers will continue to harvest their high yield, irrigated crops.
Planned irrigation system upgrades defined in SB262 provide assurance that any future water shortages on the Flathead Reservation will be further minimized by increases in delivery efficiency and improvements in water storage. The compact must be implemented before these upgrades can take place.
The local economy will be enhanced by the transfer of Kerr Dam to a CSKT company called Energy Keepers. This transfer retains the profits in a local company instead of divesting them to an out-of-state corporation. Similar to previous owners, Energy Keepers will be subject to oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Most notable for our area, Flathead Lake will remain at full pool all summer unless there is a drought and FERC mandates that Flathead Lake be drafted.
The CSKT and the residents of Montana have the same goals: protection of our water resources from out-of-state claims, robust recreational opportunities on our local waters, maximum power generation, and clear protections for water users in times of drought. The compact ensures the continued growth of western Montana and builds on the synergisms of the tribe and its neighbors working together for a better Montana.
Sen. Bruce Tutvedt
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