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A Victory for Montana’s Water Users

In Southwest Montana, water is the life-giving force that ties people, wildlife, and land together. The cold, clear water that flows from the Snowcrest, Gravelly, Tobacco Root, and Greenhorn Mountains into the Ruby River is the most valuable resource to the ranches below, and water security is key to running a successful agriculture business.

That’s why the RVSA stood strongly behind the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Water Compact. The CSKT Water Compact successfully quantifies the Tribe’s water claims and resolves critical water right issues for Montanans on and off the Flathead Reservation, paving the way for a prosperous and sustainable future for all Montanans.

The Compact, which was officially ratified by the US Congress at the end of December 2020, protects existing rights for irrigators, businesses, farmers, ranchers, conservation, and the Tribes. Most importantly, the Compact provides Montanans security in their existing water rights and allows the Water Court to facilitate completion of the statewide general stream adjudication, providing water users with legal certainty about the future of their rights and allowing for economic development on and off the Reservation.

Maintaining the viability of working ranches is one of the RVSA’s shared values. Without the CSKT Water Compact, existing water rights across Montana would have remained legally uncertain and subject to litigation, threatening working ranches including those in and around the Ruby watershed. Many working ranches and farms in western Montana could well have gone broke from having to litigate their water rights in court and would have risked losing those important rights. Such an outcome would have devastated the livelihoods of families and threatened the open space, critical wildlife habitat, and migration corridors that ranches provide.

The RVSA strongly advocated for the passage of the CSKT Water Compact and we were thankful to see the Montana Water Rights Protection Act included in the year end omnibus bill and ratified by Congress. We thank Senators John Tester and Steve Daines, and former Congressman Greg Gianforte for their leadership in ensuring this important legislation was passed, delivering justice to the CSKT and water security for all Montanans.

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