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Litigation over water expensive, unpredictable

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Can there be any happy outcome to going to court against the tribe for our water rights?

Being an adversary to the tribe assures us of no cooperation to improve the irrigation project. To start out with we have a long, ugly and protracted fight with our friends and neighbors. 

Millions will be spent in litigation. That takes away from family farms and project improvements. If the lawsuit costs $60 million, that means every fee owner on the reservation could pay $600 per acre.  That would make our farm share around $300,000. It could cost much more. The tribe is starting out with $80 million as an estimate of their litigation costs. No one can predict the outcome.   

The project would still have to deal with costs associated with endangered bull trout.

We would lose the low block of power. That would add an additional $325,000 a year in cost to the project users. 

The project will have to go to the state water adjudication court and prove its beneficial use. Expensive measurement and quantification will have to take place and it will be competing with the tribe. Under Montana water court law, no water in state will go unmeasured.  

In the negotiated water use agreement, irrigators get a priority use.  The low cost block of power remains in place. The tribe has already done extensive water measurement. Millions of dollars will be available for improvements to the project. Irrigators’ water is protected.  

Water users on the reservation are protected under the current water compact negotiated by the state, tribe and federal government. If we have to go to court, we have no idea what the outcome will be, but we do know it will be expensive.

Susan Lake



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