Your Help is Needed Now: Urge the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission to Approve the Compact

by Mark McGlothlin on December 16, 2012

in Water Worth Saving

hertofdestBattles over water have long been part of Western lore.

(We’ve been collecting vintage issues of Zane Grey’s books over the past few years – read his Heritage of the Desert for a classic old-styled battle over precious water. Nowadays instead of shooting bullets opposing forces hire attorneys and fire massive piles of paper and precedent at one another.)

The story isn’t one that can be compacted neatly into a ‘correct’ blog post sized parcel (there are a few links below for those that care to dig a little deeper).

What’s it about?

From the Flathead Beacon today…

Compact negotiations have been ongoing for years between the three primary parties involved in the settlement: the state of Montana, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the federal government. If the Legislature approves the compact, it would then need approval from Congress, the tribal government and finally the Montana Water Court, a process likely to take years.

The negotiations seek to formally confirm and quantify the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ water rights, while also establishing an administrative board to manage water on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The tribe’s “time immemorial” fishery rights, on the reservation and throughout its western Montana aboriginal hunting and fishing territory, stem from the 1855 Hellgate Treaty and were later upheld in federal court.

Why should fly fishers and river users give a hoot in hell about it?

From the team at Montana TU…

The tribes have dropped many legitimate claims to ensure that current non-tribal water users are protected. Please point this out, thank the tribes for doing so, and ask the Commission to commend the tribes for this action.

The agreement furthers economic development by providing certainty for necessary water development in the Flathead region. For example, it establishes a water rights system and identifies measurable instream flow objectives on the reservation.

The benefits of the draft agreement extend well beyond the reservation boundaries and the interests of tribal members – the negotiating teams have fully ensured that the interests of existing non-tribal water right users have been protected.

Instream flow proposals on the reservation for the Jocko River watershed, the Flathead River system, and lakes and streams from the Mission Mountains, will improve fisheries and ensure current tribal and non-tribal water users benefit from investments in water conservation.

Instream flow protections off-reservation for the Kootenai, Swan and Clark Fork Rivers will help ensure streamflows hold steady as the climate gets warmer.

The draft proposal for co-ownership between Montana FWP and the tribes of the former 2,000 CFS Milltown Dam water right needs to be improved. The amount of water that should be protected for instream flows should be 1,300 CFS instead of 1,200 CFS, with 700 CFS from the Blackfoot and 600 CFS from the Clark Fork. This is the most important element in the agreement affecting fish off-reservation.

The Milltown instream water right can be met with minimal impacts to existing upstream water users because the State of Montana will be investing millions of dollars of Clark Fork restoration funding into flow improvement.

What waterways are primarily involved?

Clark Fork, Flathead, Bitterroot, Swan and Kootenai river basins.

How can I help?

Contact Chris Tweeten, Chairman, Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission  at; ideally outline your comments (in your own words) covering the ‘hoot in hell’ section above.

Send a copy of your comments to Rob McDonald of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes at

Links to dig a little deeper.

Crunch Time for Massive Water Deal. Flathead Beacon, 16 December 2012

Lake Country Group Takes Case Against Water Compact to Ravalli County Commissioners. Missoulian, 15 December 2012

Meeting Held for Bitterroot Irrigators. Billings Gazette, 1 December 2012

Misperceptions Surround Water Compact. Bigfork Eagle, 5 December 2012.

State and Tribal Water Accord Near. MGTU Troutline, Fall 2012.

Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission web portal.