Valley Journal
Valley Journal

Jocko and Mission Irrigation Districts withdraw from FJBC

On June 14, in separate meetings, the Jocko Valley and Mission Irrigation Districts voted to issue a 90-day notice required under state law that they were withdrawing from joint operations under the Flathead Joint Board of Control (FJBC). The withdrawal will be effective September 16, 2013. We are taking this opportunity to address the reasons for this withdrawal.

The FJBC was originally established to work on transfer of Operation and Maintenance of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project from federal BIA control to local control. That transfer from federal to local control was completed in April of 2010. While transfer negotiations were taking place the FJBC was also engaged in discussions with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the U.S. regarding water use for the irrigation project, which remains a federal irrigation project, owned by the U.S. 

Both the irrigation project management transfer discussions and discussions about the irrigation project water use rights were conducted by the FJBC, the CSKT and the U.S. in a respectful, professional, cordial and consensus based manner. A water use agreement that protected all existing water uses, including extra duty water deliveries and had huge financial benefits for irrigators was agreed to by the parties. Unfortunately, this was not good enough for some people. 

The FJBC leadership has changed hands. They have indicated that they no longer support the water use agreement. They have indicated that they no longer support a respectful, consensus based approach to FIIP management by the Cooperative Management Entity by replacing all four members appointed by the FJBC to the CME with people who have participated in a lawsuit to nullify the Project transfer that the FJBC worked on for almost 30 years. They have indicated that they believe litigation is inevitable, even preferable, renewing their attorney’s contract at a rate of $150,000 per year and hiring a consultant who is vehemently opposed to any water rights settlement or Compact that involves CSKT participation in water administration in any form. 

The Jocko Valley and Mission Irrigation Districts do not agree with this new direction. Under the scenario being advanced by the new FJBC, irrigator costs are going to increase dramatically, including litigation costs and costs to operate the Flathead River Pumping Plant since the Low Cost Block of power for the pumping plant will be expiring without the water use agreement in place. Additionally, irrigators will be responsible for fixing the myriad of problems on the irrigation project and complying with ESA mandated costs without any state or federal assistance. We do not want to participate in this. The FJBC spent millions litigating instream flows in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The FJBC lost. We believe the FJBC will lose again and we do not want to pay for more litigation. We do not want to pay for increased pumping costs which may approach $6 to $7 per acre after 2015. We do not get any of the water produced by those pumps, yet we are currently paying $2.50 to $3 per acre for their operation. We do not want to lose the benefits of a secure supply of irrigation water guaranteed by the water use agreement. We do not want to lose the benefits of state and federal dollars fixing our irrigation project. We believe the transfer of O&M to local control shared with the CSKT has been a huge benefit to irrigators. We do not believe that it should be undone, as current FJBC leadership believes. 

Finally, the FJBC has been recording its meetings for the past few months. At the conclusion of the FJBC meeting on June 10, they left their recorder running. As FJBC members, we reviewed the FJBC meeting tape and actions during the meeting and continued to listen as the meeting was adjourned. The recorder was left on and for 45 minutes we listened to some of the new FJBC members and leadership discuss the Jocko and Mission irrigation districts and the CME with disparaging and sarcastic terms. Then the office manager of the FJBC was ordered, after the meeting, to not send the O&M checks that we as districts had signed for the July 1 O&M bill due to the CME/FIIP until she had approval of the FJBC chairman. This would put water deliveries in our irrigation districts in jeopardy. Even worse, the CSKT and Indian people were discussed in very ugly tones, with one of the new leaders declaring that Indians weren’t Americans and others making similar statements. The Jocko Valley Irrigation District and the Mission Irrigation District cannot tolerate this behavior. 

We have existed as irrigation districts and local governments since the mid-1920s. We operated without a Joint Board of Control for nearly 60 years. We believe that with the new leadership and direction of the FJBC, the time has come for us to operate as we did for the first 60 years of our existence. We will work cooperatively and respectfully with the CSKT, the U.S. and Montana to ensure that our irrigators have an economical, secure supply of water for their needs and we will work with those parties to ensure that the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project has a viable future, with much needed repair and rehabilitation work paid by state and federal dollars. 

We invite concerned irrigators from the Flathead district to join us in telling the new FJBC that we do not want to go in the direction the new FJBC is advocating. 

 

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