Nov 26, 2012 6:09 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
POLSON - Residents all across Western Montana will have a chance to weigh in this week on a proposed water management agreement between government agencies and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
It's an agreement that could resolve years of uncertainty over water management in Western Montana. But critics are also worried the pact could have a significant impact on farms and homes, especially in the Mission Valley.
Although the draft water compact is just now coming up for a week of hearings all across Western Montana, work on the proposed agreement has been underway for years.
Tribal, state and federal agency leaders have been try to working out an agreement that would establish a framework for water management in the decades to come, protecting historical uses, but also doing a better job of allocating water to protect fish and wildlife, and anticipating future needs.
At the heart of the agreement is the court-ordered requirements to meet the original agreements outlined in the 1855 Hellgate Treaty, which mean the pact must not only protect and manage water resources in the Flathead basin, but eventually the entire Clark Fork basin, stretching from the Blackfoot to the Bitterroot and downstream.
Members of the negotiating team believe they've come up with the best agreement that satisfies the courts, but will also provides a "scalable" management plan that will accommodate the available water resource as it varies from season to season.
But some groups, and especially in the Mission Valley, are worried the agreement could have far-reaching impacts on irrigation and agriculture, and even residential water wells and future development. In meetings stretching back to last summer they've expressed concern about not only the terms of the proposed pact, but the way it's been developed.
This week the latest draft of the plan is expected to supported, and criticized in hearings starting Libby, then moving to Bigfork and Kalispell Tuesday, Polson, Hot Springs and Thompson Falls on Wednesday, Arlee, Hamilton and Missoula on Thursday and then next week in Deer Lodge, Philipsburg and Ovando.
The parties will then figure out what revisions might have to be made, with the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission deciding before Christmas whether to submit the plan to the Legislature in 2013. Congress and the tribes will also have to ratify the pact.
The negotiating teams for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the State of Montana, and the United States have completed a proposed Water Rights Compact and released it for public review and comment.
The water rights settlement will quantify the water rights of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes on and off the Flathead Indian Reservation and provide for the administration of water rights on the Reservation.
Click here for more information, including copies of the proposed Compact and Ordinance. You can also click here. Send email or contact Rob McDonald, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (406) 675.2700 ext. 1222 or Bill Schultz (406) 542.5880, or Jay Weiner, (406) 444.6844, Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission
Submit written comments on the proposed Compact or Ordinance to Mr. Chris Tweeten, Chair, MT RWRCC, 2705 Spurgin Road, Building C, Missoula, MT 59804 or email
Public Meeting Schedule
LIBBY- Monday November 26, 2012 Time: 7:00 pm. Location: City of Libby - Ponderosa Meeting Room, 952 East Spruce Street, Libby, MT
BIGFORK - Tuesday November 27, 2012 Time: 1:00 pm. Location: Bethany Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall (Basement), 8559 MT HWY 35, Bigfork, MT
KALISPELL - Tuesday November 27, 2012 Time: 7:00 pm. Location: Outlaw Inn Hotel Winchester Room, 1701 US HWY 93 South, Kalispell, MT
POLSON - Wednesday November 28, 2012 Time: 9:00 am. Kwa TaqNuk Resort, 49708 US HWY 93 East, Polson, MT
HOT SPRINGS - Wednesday November 28, 2012 Time: 3:00 pm. Salish Senior Center, 214 N. Spring Street, Hot Springs, MT
THOMPSON FALLS - Wednesday November 28, 2012 Time: 7:30 pm. Thompson Falls High School Band Room, 601 Golf Street, Thompson Falls, MT
ARLEE - Thursday November 29, 2012 Time: 10:00 am. Arlee Senior Center, 106 Wessinger Street, Arlee, MT
HAMILTON - Thursday November 29, 2012 Time: 3:00 pm. Ravalli County Administrative Center, Third Floor Conference Room, 215 South 4th Street, Hamilton, MT
MISSOULA - Thursday November 29, 2012 Time: 7:30 pm. Double Tree Edgewater, Blackfoot Room, 100 Madison, Missoula, MT
DEER LODGE - Tuesday December 4, 2012 Time: 9:00 am. Powell County Community Center, 416 Cottonwood Avenue, Deer Lodge, MT
PHILIPSBURG - Tuesday December 4, 2012 Time: 2:00 pm. Granite County Museum, 135 N. Sansome Street, Phillipsburg, MT
OVANDO - Tuesday December 4, 2012 Time: 7:30 pm. Ovando School Gym, 108 Birch Street, Ovando, MT