Water is essential to all life. The value of our property, our homes and even the ability of people to exist and maintain a livelihood depends upon availability and use of water. We must be aware and voice opinions on the proposed plan for control and management of water rights in eleven western Montana counties, impacting over 350,000 residents plus businesses and industries. The targeted region extends from the Canadian border south to Butte, and west from the Continental Divide to Montana-Idaho border. In fact the entire state would experience major changes in economy and tax base.
For over a decade the U.S. Federal Government, with input by Montana State DNRC, has been working through the Confederated Salish-Kootenai tribes to develop a reserved water rights compact basically establishing tribal control over all water west of the Continental Divide. This proposed water rights compact is now introducing the proposal through a series of 13 public information meetings prior to its submission for vote by the state legislators early in the upcoming legislative session. This leaves inadequate time for the public to review and comment on over 1000 pages of proposal. Buried within are details for future control over uses and water allowances on and off reservation, both residential and commercial. Current home-owner reserved water rights will change. Even the legality under the Montana State Constitution is in question as state control of water is declared.
The amount of water to be contained and maintained in streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs needs clarification and commitment. This is particularly critical for those with water-front properties and boat docks likely threatened by lowered water levels. Heavy water users such as golf courses and farmers requiring irrigation, seek assurance that their needs will be based upon historical water use. Standardized allowances for all current reservation irrigators are already being contested. Inadequate available water will drive operators out of business with land values and land salability destroyed.
The great Northwest has been proud of its inexpensive hydropower made possible by the abundant watersheds from our mountains, feeding reservoirs behind the dams. We even wonder if the dams themselves will be allowed to remain secure. Stored water protecting against droughts also provide recreation, fishing and boating. Where will these revenues go as well as returns on power generation and excess water? People must seek answers to many questions at these information meetings. Equally essential is our communication with our elected officials expressing our concerns over water and its impacts on our lives and livelihoods. We must watch for public meeting announcements, attend and speak out.
Added information: http://dnrc.mt.gov/rwrcvc/Compacts/CSKT/Default.asp.