Six reasons why MT legislators should support the CSKT Compact
1) It Is Good Policy: Even though there are noisy proponents and opponents, even though the bill is large and complex, even though the CSKT (Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes) Compact could get caught up in this session’s politics, the main reason to support the Compact is because it is good policy and the right thing for Montana.
2) The Compact Resolves the Last Indian Reserved Water Rights Compact: The CSKT Compact is good policy because it resolves water issues for the CSKT that, if left unresolved, could bring on decades of conflict for communities on and off the Flathead Reservation. Further, as in any settlement, neither the Indians, the non-Indians, the State of Montana, the CSKT, nor the federal government are totally satisfied, which indicates it is a good settlement.
3) The Compact Is Good for the Economy: The CSKT Compact is good for the economy on and off the reservation because it provides certainty, keeps water rights holders from having to defend their rights in the Water Court, and frees up at least 11,000 acre feet of water for new development.
4) The Compact Will Cost Taxpayers Less: The CSKT Compact is good policy because it will cost the Montana taxpayers less than it would cost if the Compact is not passed. With passage of the Compact, the Legislature will commit to fund $8 million in this biennium. It may have to fund another $47 million in the future, if and when Congress approves of the Compact. Without the Compact, Montana taxpayers would pay at least $73 million for increased Water Court funding. It would take decades for the Water Court to finish adjudicating the 10,000 or more new claims of the CSKT.
5) The Compact Protects Water Rights Holders from Ongoing Litigation Costs: The CSKT Compact is good policy because it protects Montana water users from ongoing legal expenses and the risk of losing their water rights. If the CSKT are forced to file their 10,000 claims with the Water Court, then many water rights holders from across Montana will have to hire attorneys and re-enter the legal battles fought in adjudication. These legal battles and the reopening of the objection process would cost farmers, ranchers, cities, and other water rights holders many millions of dollars.
6) A Bonanza for Lawyers Is Usually Bad for Citizens: If the Compact is not passed, it will be the Lawyer Relief Act of this century.
Note: Hertha L. Lund is an attorney with Lund Law located in Bozeman, Montana.