Potential Impact of the CSKT Compact on Irrigators

The Flathead Joint Board of Control (FJBC), which is made up of irrigators who are elected, is in litigation to regain management of the water

By Verdell Jackson

In a previous letter to the editor, I described what Western Montana would look like under the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Compact. Gary Krueger rebutted my analysis by stating that during a drought we would have more water because we would share the shortage. The compact does give CSKT the authority to lease (sell) water from Hungry Horse reservoir and a drought or shortage would create a market.

Krueger and other people who support the compact need to read the compact instead of repeating opinions. We have not had water calls (irrigation shortages) in the recent past. In the compact, the off-reservation instream water right abstracts on major rivers are made out to the federal government in trust to CSKT, which means that the federal government not the state of Montana owns the off-reservation water rights. Montana does have a few Murphy instream water rights based on fish survival that were put in place years ago by the Montana Legislature, but the compact adds the federal government to these water right abstracts to gain control of the water.

Some irrigators in the Flathead believe that they are not impacted because they get water from irrigation wells or from a tributary that feeds into a major river. However, the compact states that irrigation wells of more than 100 gpm are subject to call (stop using water) if they are hydraulically connected to surface water. The writers of the compact knew that if the government has time immemorial water rights on the main stems (rivers) they can control all of the irrigation.

This shared shortage of water mentioned by Krueger is not likely going to be created by drought because the purpose of water storage is to prevent such a shortage. Storage facilities in the Flathead and on the CSKT Reservation are filled by high flow during the spring. If water is properly managed there is no shortage. However, the 19 reservoirs on the reservation were not filled last year and irrigation was cut off in August. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (Federal Government Agency) and the CSKT were managing the water. The Flathead Joint Board of Control (FJBC), which is made up of irrigators who are elected, is in litigation to regain management of the water as required by the 1908 amendment to the Flathead Allotment Act.

Compact proponents think that additional water is needed to make the CSKT productive by providing water to all of the irrigable land on the reservation, but this was achieved by the federal government when it built the massive Flathead irrigation project that contains 128,242 acres. Historically, the project has had sufficient water mainly from reservoir storage and the Mission Mountains, but independent studies show the compact cuts the historic delivery from 50-70 percent. This will eventually lead to the failure of the 128,242 acre Flathead Irrigation Project and the agricultural economy of the Mission Valley.

Verdell Jackson
Former state senator, Kalispell

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