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Flathead Water Board gets down to work with new appointments

Flathead Water Board
Flathead Water Management Board Metting
Flathead Water Compact
Flathead Water Management Board gfx
Posted at 8:52 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 11:14:23-05

RONAN — It's a historic week for the Mission Valley, as varied interests come together to begin a new era of water management in the Flathead Basin.

With the Flathead Water Compact, now known formally as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes-Montana Compact, as the law of the land, working is getting underway to organize all the moving parts that must function for decades to come.

Flathead Water Compact
It's a new era of water management in the Flathead Basin.

That includes the formation of the Flathead Reservation Water Management Board.

"It's been a long road for all of us. Now we realize this is a federal law," CSKT Tribal Vice Chair Leonard Twoteeth said while welcoming the large crowd. "We all have to work together because it's going to benefit all of us."

The board's first meeting in Ronan drew a large crowd Thursday afternoon, as tribal officials and Montana Lieutenant Kristan Juras announced the appointees to the new panel.

Flathead Water Management Board gfx

They include Clayton Matt, former director of the CSKT Natural Resources Department and a Compact negotiator. Roger Noble is a registered hydrologist and geologist from Polson, Ken Pitt — also from Polson — is an expert in water law. And Teresa Wall-McDonald — who's filled a variety of roles for the tribe and has served on the Tribal Council.

"This is a landmark day for the tribes and the state, and I believe that with continued cooperation between the tribes and the state that we can work through any challenge that might present itself," Wall-McDonald said in opening remarks. "People are here because they care about the Mission Valley. And I think it is that passion and that caring that will drive us forward for good decisions."

Flathead Water Management Meeting
The inaugural meeting of the Flathead Reservation Water Management Board on Jan. 20, 2022.

A fifth member must be appointed, with the panel deciding to consider four nominees. Acting Board Chair Matt recommends starting with their consideration.

"Because I think that if we get through the interview process and then decide if we really want to open it up again, we can. But I think we, you know, I think there's a lot of interest in trying to keep this process moving forward."

One of the big messages here was one of unification, how the state and the tribe must work together under terms of the Compact to manage water in the future under the Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance.

Flathead Water Management Board Metting
The Flathead Reservation Water Management Board meeting Ronan on Jan. 20, 2022.

"That includes tribal water rights, state water rights, or federal water rights," explained Mary Price, the staff scientist for the CSKT legal department. "It also includes the permitting of any new uses, changes of existing uses and the administration and enforcement of water rights on the flat reservation."

It's a complicated path, but one that has, at last, turned from the complications of the past.

Flathead Reservation Water Management Board

  • Roger Noble, Kalispell: A registered professional geologist, Noble has more than 40 years of experience in water supply, water right permitting, and groundwater contaminant investigations. He serves as senior hydrogeologist and water right advisor for Water & Environmental Technologies in Kalispell. Noble’s term will run through December 31, 2025.
  • Kenneth Pitt, Polson: With 37 years of experience in water law, Pitt teaches environmental law and water law at the Salish Kootenai College. As an attorney, Pitt focuses on tribal contracting as well as environmental, natural resource, and arson investigation issues. Pitt’s term will run through December 31, 2023.
  • Clayton Matt graduated from the University of Montana and went on to earn a master’s degree in water resource administration from the University of Arizona. He headed CSKT’s Natural Resource Department and was spokesman for the Tribal Water Rights Negotiation Team. Matt has been a member of the tribal executive staff since 2010 and is currently director of Tribal Services.
  • Teresa Wall-McDonald earned a bachelor’s degree from Great Falls College-MSU and a master’s in education administration from Gonzaga University. She began working with tribal government in 1980 and was appointed to the Tribal Council in 1984 to fill an 18-month vacancy. She was part of the team that prepared the Tribes’ legal case to assume ownership of Kerr Dam. Wall-McDonald has served as CSKT personnel director and head of Human Resource Development, Tribal Lands, and the Tribal Health Department. She is currently director of Human Resources for Salish Kootenai College.