Tribal water compact supporters, foes pack marathon hearing in Helena


by Mike Dennison Standard State Bureau

HELENA – Supporters and foes of the controversial, proposed water-rights agreement with the Flathead Indian tribes packed a marathon hearing at the Capitol Monday, arguing vehemently that the compact is either a good deal for the entire state – or a raw deal for water-users on and near the Flathead Indian Reservation.

 The compact, more than 15 years in the making, would quantify the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ water rights and commit the state to spending $55 million to upgrade an irrigation project on the reservation and finance other water projects.

 Representatives of the tribes, Gov. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox and major agricultural groups in the state spoke in support of it, saying the agreement preserves existing water uses and will prevent years of water-rights litigation.

 “We’re offering (this) up because our children and grandchildren don’t need to be fighting this battle,” said Vernon Finley, chairman of the Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council. “We come before you in a spirit of cooperation and a spirit of sharing and being good neighbors.

 “You might hear that this is a one-sided agreement in our favor. It is not.”

 Opponents, however, insisted that the agreement undermines non-Indian water rights on the reservation and will mean less water for many irrigators.

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Source:  Montana Standard

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