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Lack of irrigation water discussed at Mission Jocko meeting

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ST. IGNATIUS — A lack of water, particularly for livestock, was discussed during last week’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Mission Jocko Irrigation District commissioners.

“It’s a big deal here for some of us, I’d love to go another month,” Joint Board Chairman Ray Swenson said. “I’m gonna have to start hauling water.” He added that there may be funds available for ranchers through the Farm Service Agency for hauling stock water. 

Commissioner Tim Orr reminded members and attendees that Mission and Jocko have stock water rights recorded with the Montana DNRC. “We have stock water rights, very good ones,” he said. “Flathead has smaller stock water rights.”

Mismanagement, Orr says, is the cause of irrigation water shortages. “There’s water coming out of that mountain yet,” he said. “There’s 25 feet in K Canal … Big Knife’s running. You know all these creeks are still running. If they’re running it down the creeks and not bringing it to the farms, they’re failing us because they have responsibility to deliver as long as it’s there. So long as they can meet the instream flows… This project is mismanaging water for the irrigators. All year long. But there’s water out there. There’s no excuse why you folks don’t have stock water… This is getting ridiculous. It’s costing us $33 an acre and we are getting less and less and less service from this project.”

Commissioner Tracy Gardner agreed. He said he and other irrigators on Jocko Road were told to shut their water off Aug. 15, “but they continue to run the water for two weeks beyond that down Jocko Road. Right on past.”

Regarding delivery of stock water to the Jocko area, Commissioner Boone Cole read from an April 13 letter from Flathead Irrigation Project manager Larry Nelson: “After the 2021 irrigation water delivery is completed for the Jocko area, we will not be making any stock water deliveries of the Jocko division service area.” Though the letter states the reason is for rehabilitation of the K Canal, Cole noted that the letter doesn’t stipulate how long the service would be interrupted or that it would limited to the service area impacted by diversion work. He noted that stock water has been “in the crosshairs” for decades and that it’s something the commission needs to keep an eye on. 

Another irrigator in attendance agreed with the mismanagement assessment. Meeting attendee Kate Vandemore spoke about possible legal recourse she thought the district and irrigators could explore for broken contracts with the federal government and mismanagement of irrigation water. Commissioner Boone Cole said, “I think we are the solution to the problem. Those guys back in D.C. aren’t. So, how do we do that?”

An agenda item for “Lake County Lawsuit” was briefly discussed at the beginning of the meeting. According to Swenson, the irrigation districts had been invited to join a lawsuit filed by Lake County Commissioners with a federal court of claims for $100 million or so sought for damages (lack of funding) for infastructure upkeep due to passage of the CSKT Water Compact. The county has reportedly withdrawn the suit based on legal advice from a Missoula law firm they’re working with to resolve costs resulting from PL 280 with the state. Irrigation commissioners were told the county may re-file in the future but didn’t want to “muddy the waters” for their current case against state. 

In other business, irrigation district office manager Renee Roragen updated board members on the results of grant searching she’d done. A grant that provides funding to digitize hard copies of historical documents was of particular interest. Swenson asked Roragen to look further into this grant option and to provide a further update at the next meeting.

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