I usually ignore the rantings of Bill LaCroix as they are so over the top that I know the reasonable citizens of Ravalli County will see this poor man’s extremism for what it is. However, sometimes the man just goes too far and that is the case in his last ravings.
Titled “Crazy Corruption”, LaCroix accuses me of engineering an “ambush of hotheads and low-information malcontents,” referring to a meeting called by the commission for a representative of the DNRC to explain the process that allows the USFS to have special rights over and above both private citizens and local communities regarding the USFS filing for water rights on the closed basin of Ravalli County.
Water is the center of all life from personal survival, all aspects of agriculture, to business and yes, growth in the future. Bitterroot National Forest supervisor Julie King stated that “yes, the reason the Forest Service is filing on the water is to control future use in our valley as that use could have detrimental impacts on the fish.” As our watershed continues to burn, any water available when the basin is opened should be available to the people of the county and with good stewardship the fish will also be protected.
Why would we, the county commission, challenge this action? I swore to “defend the Constitutions” when I took office and my word is my bond. Article 9, Section 3 of the Montana Constitution is a must read for all citizens in Montana. In a nut shell, this section deals with water rights and makes clear that “2) The use of all water that is now or may hereafter be appropriated for sale, rent, distribution, or other beneficial use… shall be held for the public use, 3) All surface, underground, flood, and atmospheric water within the boundaries of the state are the property of the state for the use of its people and are subject to appropriation for beneficial uses as provided by law.” For the use of the people!
The challenge we as a commission have is to weigh threats to our county not just today but for the future. The State legislature made agreements with the Tribes and the Federal government. It is my concern that the legislature violated our Constitutional rights and the laws of Montana at many levels, including separation of the water from the landowner to the tribes, allowing legal authority over non natives not just living on the reservation but those off reservation and these actions are in direct conflict with the laws of Montana and historical use. Also the USFS has filed for water in extremely damaged watersheds where spring run off is far greater than watersheds with foliage for cover, thus greatly magnifying stream flows during spring run off, skewing the data. We are told that 26 years of historical data taken at gauges instream will not be considered versus one year with just three readings.
The USFS is tasked with protecting our watersheds, maximizing their potential for the beneficial use. Filing on watersheds that have been destroyed by fire, then telling us that “the agency will create more water” for downstream users compels me to challenge such a statement. We want to be good neighbors, we embrace our family and friends who are employed by the USFS, however, that does not mean we do not have the right or the obligation to make sure the rest of the citizens of Ravalli County have a voice and their questions and concerns answered. Mr. LaCroix failed to mention that he was in the very small minority of citizens during our public meeting. The majority there asked us to file an objection on their behalf.
I believe we all want what is best, that is the ultimate goal.
Ravalli County Commissioner