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Republican legislators support wish list, not real water compact (Guest Post)

It is disappointing to read in the Missoulian that Republican legislators Mark Noland, Carl Glimm, Kerry White, Keith Regier, Al Olszewski and Randy Brohdel support dismantling the Confedered Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact, which was approved by the Legislature in 2015 and now awaits congressional action. As members of that Legislature, they should know something, anything, about Montana water law, federal reserved water rights, and what a compact is. But apparently they don’t.

The alternative “People’s Compact” to which these legislators are lending their names is not a compact at all. As they should know, and as the word itself implies, a compact is a negotiated agreement between two or more parties, not a wish list compiled by a group of right-wing activists who have opposed the negotiated settlement every step of the way and whose last-ditch effort is now to convince Congress to reject it.

But the risks to that strategy are enormously high. If there is no compact, thousands of water rights claims will have to be adjudicated in the Water Court. If there is no compact, millions of dollars of federal investment in the Flathead irrigation project will be lost. If there is no compact, there is no guarantee that irrigators will have secure access to water.

And so to stave off that disaster, these geniuses have dreamed up an “alternative compact” to replace the real one. Well it won’t work. It cannot pass the Montana Legislature because it’s not really a compact. It cannot be accepted by the Water Court, because it’s not a compact. It will resolve nothing, because it’s not a compact.

It’s a fantasy, and these legislators should know that. And rather than pandering to a right-wing fringe, they shouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, represents Senate District 45 in the Montana Legislature.

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Dick Barrett

Dick Barrett is a retired University of Montana economics professor who has served in the Montana legislature since 2009. He currently represents Senate District 45 in Missoula. Due to term limits, the 2019 session will be his last.

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