Posted: Jul 20, 2012 4:24 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
Updated: Jul 20, 2012 11:10 PM
RONAN- Farmland irrigators in the Mission Valley say they are worried over a proposed compact setting formal water management for the Flathead Basin and beyond, saying it could have major impacts on their way of life.
Leaders of federal agencies, the State of Montana and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have finally developed a draft stipulation agreement forming the basis of an agreement to manage the region's water resources after years of negotiations.
The Flathead Joint Board of Control says the proposals would fulfill court rulings and promises made to the tribes under the 1855 Hellgate Treaty. Although the current draft is only a collection of proposals for the public to see, it's already sparking a wave of concern about the future impacts on water use in the valley.
Irrigators from around the Mission Valley gathered in Ronan Thursday for a briefing on the initial work being done to analyze and comment on the pact. Mission Valley irrigator Ken Scott said people are concerned about the amount of water they'll get for their crops.
"The other thing is, there's a lot of concern about people hearing rumors that they could be putting meters on the irrigation lines, meters on wells in Lake County," Scott said.
Speakers claimed the stipulation agreement is "vague" and raised questions about how much water will be available for crops and stock, especially with targets for keeping water in rivers and streams for fish.
While most of the focus has been on water management in the Flathead, the agreement could be applied to all watersheds under the treaty terms, covering all of Western Montana. Farmers want to know more about that, said Ronan farmer Steve Tobol.
"It's gonna be like an atom bomb dropped on you. You're not going to know what happened until its too late," Tobol said.
Tribal members say the agreement is about more than h2o. It's also about cultural values.
Irrigators say they don't want to start a "war with their friends and neighbors" of the tribe. The disagreement that's brewing is what ends up in this final document.
The public comment period on the draft closes August 2, but many months of negotiations are ahead before a final agreement would be complete for action by the tribe, the Montana Legislature and Congress.