Like many in western Montana I have been tracking the Flathead Water Compact for years. Finally, after more than a decade, two Montana legislative votes, and two separate introductions in Congress (Sen. Jon Tester in 2016), Tester and Sen. Steve Daines have introduced the Montana Water Rights Protection Act of 2016. I support it.
Unlike the 2016 version, this bill now has bipartisan support including the support of the Secretary of the Interior and the administration. The head of Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has called the federal review of the Compact the most comprehensive of any tribal water compact anywhere in the country.
The current version reduces the cost to taxpayers by $400 million while ensuring that enough funds get appropriated for modernizing the Flathead Irrigation system. These funds and associated improvements are critical to the implied promise of this legislation: that water rights will be protected. The water saved through irrigation system improvements will help ensure that irrigators get their allotments and that fish and wildlife get theirs as well.
This issue has been debated endlessly. Compromises have been made on both sides. As
U.S. Attorney General Barr commented while in Kalispell recently, “people should not assume that they’re going to end up with a better deal” through litigation, which would be the other, much worse option.
Thousands of water right claims will be settled, and Flathead irrigators will reap the benefits of a much improved irrigation system.
Thank you Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Steve Daines for agreeing to co-sponsor this critically important legislation for Montana. Montanans can indeed work together and come to agreement.
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