Hundreds of Montanans Show Support for CSKT Water Compact


April 11, 2015

Shelby DeMars

Hundreds of Montanans Show Support for CSKT Water Compact

(Helena, Mont.)—The passage or failure of the CSKT Water Compact will determine whether thousands of Montana water users will have the certainty of protected water rights or will be forced into Court to litigate those rights.

Hundreds of water users, from Kalispell to Billings and beyond, attended the hearing to testify in support of the Compact.

Melissa Hornbein, testifying on behalf of the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission, explained that the Compact is a negotiated agreement that will protect the water rights of junior water users.

“The Compact recognizes a few, very heavily conditioned, off-reservation instream flow rights in exchange for the settlement and concession of the rest of their tribal claims across the state,” explained Hornbein. “The Compact protects any non-irrigation use of water from tribal call and ensures that those with existing rights are protected.”

Hornbein was one of many experts that attended the House Judiciary Committee hearing to support the Compact. In addition to these experts were hundreds of farmers, ranchers, and irrigators who attended the hearing to urge passage of the agreement and voice their concerns about the uncertainty that failure to pass the Compact would create.

“One part of the Compact that is important to our members is the certainty that it provides,” said John Youngberg, Executive Vice President of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. “When our members found out that without the Compact the Tribe could file on the Upper Yellowstone, Missouri and Milk Rivers they agreed that the negotiated agreement and the certainty it provides is far more beneficial than the alternative of decades of litigation.”

While eliminating uncertainty was cited as one of the primary reasons for supporting the Compact, so too was preventing the financial burden that failure to pass the Compact would place on Montana’s farmers and ranchers.

“Our membership indicated their support for the certainty provided by the Compact, as well as for the litigation that it would prevent,” said Gene Curry, President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “Personally, my family ranch has in excess of $200,000 invested in our water rights litigation. Without the Compact, thousands of individual water users across the state will be forced into Court, and forced to foot the bill for thousands of dollars. Our membership simply cannot afford more water litigation.”

Jack Horner, a rancher from Ronan and irrigator of over 1200 acres went so far as to note that legislators who vote against the Compact now will realize the mistake they’ve made in the future.

“Without the Compact, 40 years from now we’ll be looking back and thinking how foolish we were,” said Horner. “We’ve always had faith and trust in the fact that we will have access to the water we need. Without the Compact, all of that will be put into question.”

The date and time that the House Judiciary Committee will take Executive Action to vote on the bill has not yet been determined.

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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