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Irrigators listen to Water Compact presenters

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RONAN — Last week more than 80 irrigators and elected officials gathered in Ronan to hear presenters from multiple state agencies explain the intricacies of the proposed Confederated Salish and Kootenai Water Compact. 

The compact is a reserved water rights settlement agreement between the Tribes, State of Montana, and United States government. Renegotiation of the compact is expected to begin soon, so a finalized draft can come before the state legislature in 2015. 

“The Compact is so long and has so many moving parts that it takes multiple meetings to understand the multiple moving parts and unique aspects of the Compact,” irrigator and Kalispell state Senator Bruce Turtredt said of the meeting. “I enjoyed it. I always learn things at these meetings.”

The compact is a complex document that comprises more than 1,000 pages and has grown to be one of the most contentious political issues in the Mission Valley in recent years. The political debate has spawned much misinformation, which nonprofit Montana Water Stewards hoped to dispel by inviting officials from the Montana Department of Natural Resources, Governor Steve Bullock’s office, and the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission. 

The compact commission’s staff attorney Melissa Hornbein said she thought the event went well. 

“I liked the roundtable discussion,” Hornbein said. “The compact commission is happy to go anywhere to have a dialogue and answer questions.” 

As someone who has spent a lot of time working toward the compact, Hornbein said she would like to see it passed, but she also explains to people that there are legal avenues available to handle water rights claims if the compact doesn’t pass. Hornbein said she tries to give people the most accurate, unbiased information so they can make up their own minds about the compact. 

Charlo farmer Duane Weible said he enjoyed the meeting, though he is pretty familiar with the compact. He asked questions about misconceptions typically relayed to him through friends and family. 

“I asked for other people,” Weible said. “It was a meeting mainly to inform people of the facts and try not to mislead anybody.” 

Weible supports the compact. 

“The main reason is the uncertainty if we don’t have a compact,” Weible said. “If we have certainty we can plan for the future.” 

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