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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Supporters Push For Approval Of Flathead Water Compact

A new group of farmers, ranchers, and tribal members want to convince Montana lawmakers to pass a water compact, like the one they rejected two years ago.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are the only Montana Native Americans who lack a compact with the state governing water rights. In 2013, the legislature rejected it, after objections from property rights groups. The group supporting the new compact includes Scott Reichner of Bigfork, an outgoing state lawmaker who voted against the last version.

“I have a hundred percent rating with property-rights advocacy groups, and the way I look at this is that, we need to protect our property rights in the state of Montana,” Reichner said. “If we don’t have a compact, those property rights, water rights are in jeopardy.”

The group Reichner is with, Farmers and Ranchers for Montana, is pushing for approval of the latest compact with the Flathead reservation tribes. The alternative, he says could be years of expensive lawsuits.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the state and federal governments could to wrap up negotiations on the compact Wednesday in Polson.

The compact negotiated two years ago drew fire from property rights advocates and eventually died in the legislature. Reichner says that signing a compact is better than the alternative.

“At some point in time if we don’t have a compact, the tribe will go in and probably file several thousand court cases to gain water rights to water that they claim,” he said.

Montana has completed seventeen compacts with six tribes and five federal agencies, but this case is unique. The CSKT are the only tribes guaranteed the right to fish outside their reservation boundaries, under an 1855 Treaty with the US government.

The Montana Compact Commission is meeting in Polson to hammer out the final details, and form their strategy for getting the new compact through the legislature.

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