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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Flathead Irrigators Urge Rejection Of Water Rights Compact

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact narrowly passed the state Legislature in 2015 after more than a decade of negotiation. It settles water rights in and around the Flathead Reservation.

The Flathead Joint Board of Control, the body that represents most irrigators on the Flathead Reservation, is sharply divided over the proposed water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

At a meeting Tuesday, a majority of the board decided to draft a resolution urging the state legislature to reject the proposal. Vice Chairman Jerry Laskody says most of the commissioners feel the state and the tribe have ignored the concerns of irrigators.

“We’ve been kept out of the process because we don’t agree with the position that the state of Montana has taken, and that is to support this unconstitutional theft of a property right."

Laskody says a committee will meet Friday to hash out the wording of their resolution to the legislature. Out of eleven members on the board, eight are opposed to the compact, which would settle the only remaining water-rights dispute involving a Montana tribe.

Three members of the joint board support the compact, including Trent Coleman, who says it avoids years of expensive lawsuits.

“It’s a sound agreement and it needs to be put through to protect everybody," Coleman says. "Otherwise we’re stepping back in time to the 80s when the Joint Board litigated against the tribe and obviously the Joint Board lost on everything.”

Disagreement over the proposed water compact has divided the Flathead Joint Board for years. The last time a compact was being considered, two years ago, the Flathead Joint Board voted to support it, leading to a disagreement that resulted in the Board briefly disbanding, and dropping out as a party to the negotiations. 

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