House Narrowly Approves Flathead Water Compact
Wednesday afternoon the Montana House narrowly approved the Flathead Reservation Water Compact after more than three hours of debate on the House floor.
Great Falls Republican Steve Fitzpatrick said it was the best deal for the state, the tribes, and the Federal government.
"At a very minimum this is the bill that will protect those water rights across the state of Montana. A no vote today is a no vote to potentially extinguish water rights in the state of Montana for off-reservation users. A no vote is for more litigation. The truth is this is the best possible deal, and you’re not going to get a better result than what’s in this compact for most people in the state of Montana."
"The truth is this is the best possible deal, and you're not going to get a better result than what's in this compact for most people in the state of Montana."
Opponents took aim the complexity of the agreement, its guarantee of off-reservation water rights, and the fact that tribal water rights would be held “in trust” by the federal government. Bozeman Republican Kerry White says he doesn’t trust “the feds” to act in the tribes’ best interest.
"I have no problem giving the water to the tribes, not at all. But I have a big problem giving the water that belongs to the people of the state of Montana and the citizens of the state of Montana, over to the federal government to be held in trust for the tribes."
Opponents brought forward thirteen amendments to the compact. All were voted down by slim margins. The final vote on the compact was 53 in favor and 47 against.
The compact still needs final approval, which probably come tomorrow, before going to the governor for his signature.