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Brochure on irrigation agreement incomplete

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We assume all irrigators received their informational brochure from the Flathead Joint Board of Control over the weekend, as we did. Considering how contentious the water use agreement has been among irrigators and how divided they are, it was astonishing that the brochure was 100-percent positive about the agreement. It did advise irrigators to “consider all the factors for and against the water use agreement,” but failed to address any of the arguments against the Agreement. It went on to warn irrigators against “claims that seem designed to elicit fear and distrust.”

We will be the first to admit that we have both fear and distrust regarding the water use agreement, and believe our fears and distrust to be well grounded.

First and foremost is the fear that irrigators and the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project will have no water right if this agreement passes, despite vast water rights having been filed for by the FJBC. We fear that in-stream flows and minimum reservoir pool elevations will increase dramatically. We fear the irrigation project will have less water than it does today. We fear that “all existing uses” will not be protected. 

We fear that dispute resolution will bypass our state water court and force irrigators to appear before an unelected governing board (the unitary water management board) and then federal court. 

Litigation: If we only had an acre-foot of water for every time that word has been used to convince irrigators that we simply must approve this agreement. Under the section of the brochure titled “Consequences of not approving the FIIP Water Use Agreement” are listed five consequences. We find it interesting that litigation is not mentioned. Actually, the brochure rightly uses the term adjudication, which is the state’s process of determining water right, use and allocation. Litigation will probably happen to some extent, regardless of whether this agreement passes or not, but the primary process for determining water rights and uses will be adjudication, not litigation. We welcome adjudication.

Interestingly, the consequences section does not list the possibility that, without an agreement, the project could end up with less water and more in-stream flows than it has today. In actuality, those are consequences of passing the agreement.

Under the section titled “What is not in the FIIP Water Use Agreement,” the brochure states, “Nothing in the agreement allows the tribes to start charging water users for their FTA or MWUA, or for any other water to which a person has a water right.” That is exactly our point. We will have no water right.

We believe that the water use agreement is a bad deal for irrigators, and we believe irrigators would be better served by the adjudication process.

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