Posted: Feb 4, 2013 8:36 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
ARLEE - Farmers and ranchers in the Jocko Valley are told fighting a proposed water rights agreement could cost millions of dollars, and probably wouldn't stop changes coming on how water is managed in the Flathead Basin.
That was among the main messages as the Flathead Joint Board of Control began a series of informational meetings explaining the proposed settlement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
The agreement governs how water will be allocated to farms and ranches on the Flathead Irrigation Project, one of the last remaining steps before a proposed agreement covering the entire Flathead Basin can go to the Legislature for approval.
Many of the irrigators continue to have serious reservations about the proposed settlement, worrying that having the tribes assume full control of the water rights spells economic ruin for them.
But during the meeting in Arlee Monday afternoon, the Joint Board's attorney explained the tribes have had those rights ever since the 1855 Hellgate Treaty. He says the proposed settlement clarifies that, and won't prevent farms and ranches from continuing to receive water as they have for decades.
"And under this agreement the tribes own the water right. But you still have the exact same right to receive water from the project," Flathead Joint Board of Control Attorney John Metropolous said.
The informational meetings will continue Tuesday, with the irrigators expected to vote on the proposed settlement in about a month.