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Jackson’s bill to extend compact remains alive

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HELENA — Sen. Verdell Jackson, R-SD 5, has the only water compact bill still alive in the 2013 Montana Legislature. Senate Bill 265 would extend the water compact deadline by two years, and it has passed the Senate.

“It’s had executive action in the House of Representatives. Now it needs to go to the floor for a vote,” Jackson said.  

“I have introduced Senate Bill 265 to extend the compact for two more years to continue negotiation and public involvement to have a fair and equitable settlement as required by law,” Jackson explained.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes testified against his bill, Jackson said, and he doesn’t believe the tribes have given up their effort to get the compact passed.  

Jackson has made no secret of his opposition to the present compact, stating it doesn’t have precise language in many different areas. He also said it’s more like a contract than a regular bill. 

“If the wording is vague, it’s a red flag for me,” Jackson explained.  

“I believe that the hearings on the compact were not well done, and changes were made in the compact up to mid-February. This, along with the unprecedented magnitude of this compact, a $55 million fiscal note and a district court lawsuit has created distrust. For this reason, I had Senate Bill 265 drafted to extend the compact deadline to provide time for the public and legislature to analyze this very important agreement and give it the due diligence it deserves.” 

He said, “The compact contains off-reservation senior water rights on 11 counties to set minimum flows on rivers and streams, which will negatively impact water rights and affect more than 350,000 people.”

Jackson’s priorities would be that the Flathead Reservation gets all the water it can justify and that the irrigators would have enough water, areas where he believes the current compact is lacking.

“I think there is enough water for everybody,” he said.

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