While no one can begrudge a local government for wanting to protect the interests of their residents, it is a different scenario entirely when they are criticizing the very legislation that will protect their constituents from years of costly litigation and uncertainty.
Contrary to claims made by the Lake County Commission, the Montana Water Rights Protection Act introduced by Sen. Steve Daines and supported by Sen. Jon Tester is not only bipartisan, but has tremendous benefits for water users both in Lake County and across our state. The MWRPA protects water users and well owners in our county by defining the federally reserved water rights of the Tribes and preventing expensive legal proceedings in the Montana Water Court.
In fact, without Daines’ solution to protect water rights, water users would have started receiving notices from the Montana Water Court informing them that their water rights were being challenged by the Tribes when the stay on the Tribes’ claims expired on Jan. 10. Thankfully, because of Daines’ legislation, the Water Court renewed the stay of these legal claims, extending the expiration date and saving Montanans from having to deal with the immediate enforcement of the Tribes’ rights.
The Lake County Commission has also made claims that the agreement expands the reservation and tribal influence, when in reality it does the exact opposite. The MWRPA ensures that existing water rights, as well as non-irrigation uses of water, are protected from Tribal call.
I would encourage our county leaders to carefully consider the tremendous benefits of the Montana Water Rights Protection Act. Instead of criticizing Senator Daines, they should really be thanking him for introducing legislation that will protect the water rights and tax dollars of our Lake County residents.
Jan Tusick, secretary treasurer
Mission Valley Irrigators United