Environment | Opinion

Opinion: Deadline ticks on tribal water rights deal in Montana

"Reason is often the first casualty in quarrels over water rights in Montana. Certainly reason is being assailed in Northwest Montana where critics, including a few politicians and some conspiracy theorists are attacking proposals to settle the substantial water right claims of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

And that’s too bad, because the primary interests negotiating over the claims, the State of Montana, federal government and the tribes, are working hard to accommodate each other’s interests with a settlement that poses little risk to existing water right holders, including irrigators and municipalities.

In the 1855 Stevens Treaty the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai and Pend Oreille peoples ceded more than 20 million acres of ancestral homeland to the U.S. government. That agreement, however, guaranteed the native peoples the rights to hunt and fish in all their accustomed places both on and off their Mission and Flathead Valley reservation. Because fish and wildlife require streams, lakes and wetlands, the tribes were granted a so-called “reserved” water right to protect these resources. The reserved rights also entitled the tribes to significant say regarding water allocation for all uses on the reservation. The problem has been that generations later these rights have never been quantified."

Get the Story:
Bruce Farling Commentary: “Confederated Salish and Kootenai Water Rights” (Montana Public Radio 9/10)

Also Today:
Time running out for water rights compact on Flathead Reservation (The Missoulian 9/9)

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