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Water management board applicants sought

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MONTANA — Since the Secretary of Interior signed off on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai-Montana Compact Sept. 17, state and tribal governments are moving ahead to establish the Water Management Board, charged with administering water rights on the reservation.

County Commissioners in the four counties encompassed by the Flathead Reservation – Lake, Sanders, Missoula and Flathead – have 90 days from the date the compact was signed to submit nominations to the governor for the new board. Lake County submits the preponderance with five nominees; Sanders County, three; Missoula County, two; and Flathead County, one. Of those 11 names, Gov. Greg Gianforte will appoint two members to the five-member board. The Tribal Council will also choose two and a fifth will be selected by the four members of the board. The Department of Interior appoints a sixth non-voting member. 

Lake County Commissioner Gale Decker said last week that commissioners have already received several inquiries, and an advertisement for the position appears in local newspapers this week. 

According to the language of the Compact, candidates must be over 18 and live within the reservation boundaries, which can also mean someone who does business here or who owns and maintains a seasonal residence. 

Qualified applicants also need to have education and experience in at least one of the following fields: natural resources management, public administration, agriculture, engineering, commerce, finance, hydrology, biological sciences, water law or water policy. Elected officials aren’t eligible, although employees or contractors of state, tribal or federal government are. 

The water board is charged with overseeing the Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance, a document that dictates procedures for administering water uses on the reservation, and processes for permitting new uses and enforcing water rights.

The commissioners met with Sanders County Commissioner Glen Magera on Sept. 21, and agreed to collaborate on the language that appears in the advertisement and application document. 

Colleagues in Sanders County “think they’re going to have a very difficult time coming up with three names to match the skill set since they have a much smaller population to draw from,” said Decker.

Decker and fellow commissioner Bill Barron are both optimistic that Lake County will have a healthy supply of qualified candidates, although neither was prepared to estimate how much time serving on the board will require. 

“I think it’s going to be huge the first year,” predicted Barron. 

After the board convenes, presumably early next year, members must hire a water engineer to directly oversee the water resources staff, provide technical assistance to the board, “and have the skill to deal with a diverse and sometimes contentious public.” The vote for engineer must be unanimous. 

Arriving at the Compact – which quantifies and provides the framework for administering water rights on the reservation – has been a long, and often divisive process. Commissioners don’t expect those divides to be easily or quickly straddled, and say finding candidates for the board who are completely neutral on the Compact is unlikely. 

“There are going to be very few people that don’t have an opinion one way or the other – pro or anti Compact,” says Decker. “We just need to have people who are going to be reasonable and open and able to at least consider the argument.”

Barron adds that even naysayers “might have some great ideas that could help make it work.”

Both commissioners anticipate that candidates from Lake County’s three irrigation districts – Jocko, Mission and Flathead – will be among the applicants. 

The Compact stipulates that compensation for those serving on the water board will be determined by whichever government entity appoints the members (state, tribal or federal government). 

For an application packet or additional information, contact the county commissions at or 406-883-7204 by Nov. 1; commissioners expect to forward the names of five nominees to the governor by the end of November. 

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