Question to Supporters of the Water Compact

What are the recreational water rights the compact is giving to the Tribes?

By Jerry O’Neil

This is an open letter to the supporters of the water compact between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the state of Montana, and the United States of America. This letter is a request for information to the smartest men in Montana who assure me the compact is constitutional. These smart men include: Dr. Ed Berry, atmospheric physicist; Steve Bullock, present governor of Montana and past attorney general of Montana; Tim Fox, present attorney general of Montana; Ryan Zinke, U.S. House of Representatives and candidate for speaker of the house; Chas Vincent, Montana state senator and sponsor of SB 262 for implementation of the compact and Zac Perry, whose House District 3 will be especially affected by the compact.

In paragraph four, on page 24 of the compact and on page 19 of SB 262, it is provided that, “the Tribes shall be added as a co-owner with MFWP of the Water Rights Arising Under State Law held by MFWP for Instream Flow and recreation purposes that are identified on the tables attached hereto as Appendix 28 [Claims co-owned by the CSKT to be finally decreed as part of the Compact] and Appendix 29 [Claims co-owned by the CSKT NOT to be finally decreed as part of the Compact].”

These water rights include instream and recreational water rights on the Main Stem, South Fork, Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead River, along with the Rock Creek, Blackfoot and the Bitterroot Basins.

The Tribes retain the unilateral right to exercise these water rights.

My question is: what are the recreational water rights the compact is giving to the Tribes? In Missoula, just outside the Caras Park Pavilion, the city put underwater diversions in the Clark Fork River to create Brennan’s Wave, constructed in memory of a Missoula kayaker. Do the Tribes, retaining the unilateral right to exercise the recreational water rights on Montana’s rivers, have the unfettered right to place underwater diversions to create waves for kayakers? If Columbia Falls wants a kayak course on the main stem of the Flathead River, will they have to pay the Tribes for permission?

As a sovereign possessing the unilateral right to exercise recreational water rights on these bodies of water, do the Tribes have the right to limit the number of river guides who may take rafts down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River? Will they have the authority to designate how many of these guides are members of the Tribes? And what about fishing licenses?

Jerry O’Neil
Columbia Falls

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