Montana water right holders have recently received official looking mailers that appear to be a litigation notice from the Montana Water Court. In fact, these mailers are only more lies and propaganda from the astro-turf group Farmers and Ranchers for Montana (FARM). This attempt to deceive Montanans is, unfortunately, par for the course for FARM.
FARM claims to be a grassroots organization of Montanan citizens and rancher/irrigators, but is in reality a creation the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and their Washington D.C., based PR firm, Mercury, Inc. FARM burst on the scene at the 2015 Montana Legislature complete with a board of directors, staff, lobbyist, and big budget with one purpose: pushing the floundering CSKT Water Compact over the goal line. The board is full of names of ex-legislators and once influential persons, all selected to give FARM the appearance of knowledge, credibility, and experience. Instead, FARM just spews CSKT talking points and fear monger.
The biggest whopper that FARM continues to tell is how the Compact was negotiated “with input from agriculture groups and water users.” Who were these ag groups who gave their input? It wasn’t the Montana Stockgrowers, which up until 2013 was ignorant of the details or even the existence of the CSKT Compact. In 2015, the membership voted to support a compact that would protect existing water and property rights and follow current Montana water law. That position statement is not reflected by this deeply flawed compact. All the same can be said about Montana Farm Bureau. So, if an agriculture group had input on the negotiations, I don’t know who they were.
FARM loves to stoke up fear. For instance, the most recent mailer states that if the Compact isn’t ratified by Congress, water users will “lose the ability to irrigate for decades…” Really? I know that most basins have only recently published a final adjudication, with some still not finished. Has Montana turned into a parched moonscape while the adjudication takes place? Hardly so. There must be some way to continue to use your water right in the absence of a final decree…
Proponents of the CSKT Compact resolutely tout the absolute superiority and infallibility of the tribal claims. This is no guarantee either. Idaho faced a similar circumstance and refused the demands of the tribes. The tribes dutifully responded by filing over 2500 claims, and indeed they won — sort of. Approximately six claims filed by the tribe were recognized by the Idaho Water Court, and those claims were curtailed so as to have absolute minimum impact on irrigation.
Supporters of the CSKT Compact insist on its adoption at all costs. But what are those costs? The State of Montana has agreed to pay the Tribe more than $55 million, plus all the water on the Flathead Reservation, including ownership and control of the Flathead Irrigation Project and an enormous amount of water off the reservation as well. The bill that Senator Tester introduced included over $2 BILLION for a federal contribution, and God only knows what else.
FARM is right about one thing. This is indeed the time to contact your Congressional delegation. Call them up, e-mail, or send a letter and tell them to dump this Compact where it belongs, in the dumpster. (It would literally require a dumpster; the Compact is over 1500 pages long.)
Oh, and use all that FARM propaganda for something useful and start a fire, the nights are getting chilly.
— Matt Graveley, vice president
Rocky Mountain Stockgrowers Association