Agriculture, Water Use Groups Urge House Members to Pass CSKT Water Compact as Second Half of the Session Begins


March 5, 2015

Shelby DeMars

Agriculture, Water Use Groups Urge House Members to Pass CSKT Water Compact as Second Half of the Session Begins

(Helena, Mont.)—As members of the Montana State Legislature return from the transmittal recess one of the issues members of the Montana House of Representatives will be facing is the ratification of the bi-partisan Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes Water Compact.

The Compact passed the Senate with a 31-19 vote and a strong base of support from both sides of the political aisle.

“The Compact protects private property rights and complies with both the Montana and U.S. Constitutions, as well as Montana water law,” said Attorney General Tim Fox. “We have thoroughly evaluated the long lasting and costly impacts if the Compact is not approved and believe that passing the Compact is the best option for Montanans.” Click here for more on the Montana Attorney General’s support of the Compact.

One of the primary reasons that the Compact is so widely supported is for the litigation that it prevents.

“It is important to realize that the cost of this litigation will fall upon water users and not the State of Montana,” said former Montana Congressman Rick Hill in a statement earlier this week. “Thousands of individual claims will have to be separately quantified through costly litigation. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of water users will be brought into the fight. It will cost tens of millions of dollars to fund the lawyers and experts. And it will take years, perhaps decades to settle those claims.” Click here for the entire statement.

Agricultural and water use groups are among the largest supporters of the Compact, as well as individual farmers, ranchers, and irrigators from every corner of the state.

“Certainty regarding our water resources—from the availability of stock water to irrigation water—is invaluable,” said Errol Rice, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “It is crucial that the Compact passes in order to protect the existing water rights of the ranching community. Without it, many Montana ranchers will be forced to shoulder the burden of thousands of dollars in litigation costs.”

The Compact, SB 262, would prevent an onslaught of unnecessary litigation that would call the rights of water users from the Flathead, to Billings, and beyond into question.

“If the Compact fails to pass, the tribe is required to file claims to define their federally reserved water rights by June 30th of this year,” explained John Youngberg, Executive Vice President of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. “There is a lot of misinformation being circulated about the Compact, but when you move beyond the fear mongering to the facts, it’s clear that a vote for the Compact is a vote to support agriculture. I urge all of the elected officials in the House to pass the Compact. The litigation that will cost our state millions if the Compact fails is not a threat—it’s an inevitability.” Click here for the latest article on the Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s support of the Compact and the opinion editorial by Executive Vice President John Youngberg.

Many supporters of the Compact are encouraging legislators to listen to their constituents—the farmers, ranchers, and irrigators who would be directly impacted if the Compact fails.

“We have major agriculture and water use groups in the state supporting the Compact,” said Mike Murphy of the Montana Water Resources Association. “A large number of those who have a significant stake in the use of irrigation water support the Compact for them and for all Montanans. It protects private property and water rights, and ensures that when you hand the farm or ranch to the next generation the ability to access water goes with it.” Click here to view more on the support of the: Montana Water Resources Association, Bitterroot Irrigators, and Gallatin Valley Irrigators.

Farmers and Ranchers for Montana (FARM), a coalition of farmers, ranchers, and water users from across the state voiced similar concerns, stating that when making their decision, House members should carefully consider the sources of the material provided to them from both sides of the issue.

“Many of the Compact opponents have misrepresented themselves as having the best interests of Montanans at heart,” said Shelby DeMars, spokeswoman for FARM. “In reality, they are pushing an out-of-state agenda and they won’t be the ones to pay the court costs when the litigation starts—it will be Montana farmers and ranchers.”

Farmers And Ranchers for Montana (FARM) is a coalition of hundreds of farmers and ranchers, united with local leaders, tribal governments, businesses, water-users, and other Montanans who support the approval of a Water Compact.

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