In a recent opinion Verdell Jackson poses the question, “Will Steve Bullock and Tim Fox fight for Montana citizens against tribal or federal government overreach?”
The answer is simple. Yes – because they already have. By supporting the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact both Governor Steve Bullock and Attorney General Fox have worked to protect water users across Montana.
It is abundantly clear that the elected officials who support the compact do so because it not only protects individual water right holders from costly litigation, but also protects our state from federal overreach.
The negotiated agreement clearly defines the federally reserved water rights of the Tribe and includes protections for those with existing water rights. The Montana Constitution is the guiding document governing the CSKT water compact and gives Montana control of our state’s water. The compact has provisions that allow for the system to adapt water usage in times of water shortage for mutual benefit of all parties.
For instance, without the compact, the federal government could limit the amount of water available for irrigation in order to ensure species such as the bull trout have sufficient instream flow water to prosper. With the compact, the decisions on how water is managed in times of drought are placed in the hands of Montanans.
By filing suit to stop the compact, the Flathead Joint Board of Control (FJBC) is putting Montana’s water users at risk and subjecting the waterways of our state to more federal control than would be allowed under the provisions of the compact.
In his opinion Verdell attempts to justify the lawsuit of the FJBC by saying that the compact provides an “unconstitutional waiver of immunity” which prevents the state from being sued. The flaw in this argument is that, by definition, “waiving immunity” means that the state can be sued. If an entity has immunity, then that entity cannot be held liable. If an entity waives immunity, as stated in the compact, it allows the entity to be sued and held liable.
The FJBC lawsuit is nothing more than a last ditch effort by compact opponents to force uncertainty and litigation on Montana’s water users at the expense of the Flathead irrigators whose irrigation fees are funding the FJBC’s frivolous legal escapade. Thankfully we have elected officials like Bullock and Fox who are willing to put aside their differences and work together to protect Montana’s water users.
Tim Fox and Steve Bullock have fought to protect Montana’s water users. Verdell, it is you with your inaccurate opinion pieces about the CSKT Water Compact that are the problem.
Sen. Bruce Tutvedt
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