Misrepresenting the Water Compact

Compact does not give the CSKT authority to regulate activities off the reservation

By Zac Perry

Instead of making simple efforts to fully educate yourself with accurate and complete information on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact (Compact), Jerry O’Neil takes to public media to try and frighten Montana citizens and the citizens of House District 3 with misinformation. Indeed, you were a member of the Legislature during the 2013 session, so you know that the compact was found to be Constitutional and that the tribes do not have regulatory authority off the reservation (as you suggest) and it appears you merely enjoy the rhetoric.

The co-owned Tribal-State water rights to which you refer makes recreation in our rivers and streams possible for all people – Indians and non-Indians –for rafting, fishing, and other recreational purposes. The unilateral right to which you refer simply refers to the tribes’ right to enforce already-existing water rights managed by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MFWP). The recreation purposes are for in stream flows, not for regulation. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) would simply have the option to make a call on water rights that are already in existence with MFWP. MFWP as a co-owner also would have that same option. The state and CSKT negotiated this right to share the in-stream flows of already existing water rights to help further protect off-reservation water users. Essentially, the CSKT agreed to forego many of their in-stream flow claims, pending approval of the compact, which would have impacted the amount of water that those with junior water rights could have access to.

Simply stated, the compact does not give the CSKT authority to regulate activities off the reservation. That means we do not need to worry about the questions you ask as your questions misrepresent the applicable law and the language of the compact.

Here, the CSKT made a compromise. Rather than litigating and obtaining a senior water right for subsistence purposes, the CSKT agreed to share a co-ownership right with the state for in-stream flow and recreational purposes. In general the CSKT agreed to a priority date much later than what they could have sought through litigation. As a result most existing uses of water in the Flathead River north of the lake are now senior to the shared tribal-state in-stream flow and recreation rights as stated in the compact. This was a huge concession by the CSKT and a great benefit to water users in Flathead County.

If elected again, I promise to continue to do my duty to make informed decisions and to have informed discussions about important issues such as this. Best wishes to you Mr. O’Neil and happy holidays. I will be out fishing our beautiful streams with my Montana fishing license.

Rep. Zac Perry
D-Martin City

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