Call for ‘special’ Flathead Irrigation District meeting
Over a year ago BIA announced that it would increase required irrigator O&M fee payments next year by $4.50 to $33.50 per acre. Although there are good reasons to have actively challenged the magnitude of that increase, the now defunct FJBC and its three continuing irrigation districts did little.
Faced with a Lake County filing deadline for next year’s O&M fee, the Flathead Irrigation District (FID) decided at its Aug. 13 meeting to not implement the BIA fee increase. Jocko and Mission districts made a similar decision the previous month.
Good news. Hold on.
If the districts refuse to pay the BIA increase, BIA is likely to respond with actions that will disrupt if not cut off irrigation water during the 2019 season.
FID (and Mission and Jocko districts) will then need to decide whether to challenge BIA in court. But during the FID meeting, it became clear that FID commissioners opposing the increase had not sought any legal advice on the prospects for litigation success and potential FID legal costs.
If the districts decide not to challenge the BIA or lose in court, the districts will then need to decide on whether to pay the increase by drawing down their financial reserves. But district financial reserves have been built up over time in order to meet a project emergency and/or large water court legal fees if the compact fails. I also believe that a reduction in FID financial reserves will reduce its negotiating strength in future negotiations to return BIA project management to local control.
Given what’s at stake, FID commissioners should call a “special” meeting to reconsider their precipitous and ill-considered O&M fee decision.