Water Security is Essential for Montana Agriculture
Last week, three Farm Bureau leaders traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the MFBF Washington D.C. Fly-In Program. As a part of their application, members were asked to submit a statement about a federal policy issue important to agriculture. Montana Farm Bureau is full of intelligent, thoughtful leaders and these statements are evidence of that!
The most important issue facing our farm and ranch operation is the passage of the CSKT Water Compact.
The CSKT compact was put into state statute in the 2015 legislature with bi-partisan support. It was the culmination of decades of negotiations with the Salish Kootenai Tribes and the state of Montana.
Final ratification of the compact in Congress will finalize all water claims by the CSKT tribes and provide certainty for state based water users across Montana that their water rights are safe.
First and foremost it protects junior water users from across the state from having to object to the very senior claims of the CSKT tribe but beyond that it brings more years than we can guess to water security in western Montana. It secures 90,000 acre feet of water in Hungry Horse for use solely in Montana. That means down river states cannot take that away from us. This is water that has ever been available to Montana.
It creates co-ownership of water rights with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. There is no co-regulatory authority. The co-owned in stream flow rights will continue to be managed by FWP. There is no federal control and no additional water in these rights. There is no change in regulatory authority off the reservation. There is no additional control by the federal government. The Department of Natural Resources continues to manage off reservation water issues.
On reservation, the state still has input on new uses on the reservation. This occurs on no other reservation in the state as the other tribes have sole authority for new uses on their reservations.
As has been done in other state-tribal compacts money is put into securing water for irrigators on the reservation by spending money on improving irrigation infrastructure. It also guarantees the low block of power for irrigators to help keep down the cost of irrigation to the tune of about $300,000. This is not a cost to tax payers. Protections are put in place to guarantee irrigators receive historic amounts of irrigation water. Drought water sharing practices are put in place. Protections are given to irrigators that would otherwise lose water to endangered bull trout.
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