BIGFORK, Mont. -

On Tuesday in Bigfork residents gathered together with experts and negotiators involved in the creation of a proposed water rights compact. The proposed agreement involves the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the state and federal governments.

Tuesday’s meeting in Bigfork was just one of twelve public meetings that folks are able to attend and submit comments. Tuesday’s meeting included background presentations as well as a question and answer session.

The proposed settlement would include waterways on the Flathead Indian Reservation, as well as some in designated aboriginal hunting territories off reservation land, including the Swan, Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Upper Clark Fork and Kootenai rivers. The chairman of the Water Rights Compact Commission says the compact would tie loopholes, set specific amounts of water each person is entitled to, and also honor water rights granted to tribal members as a result of the Hellgate Treaty of 1855.

Opponents of the proposed water rights compact argue that the deal cuts the current amount of water individual irrigators currently use, and could put ranchers and farmers out of business.

Michael Gale is a resident who lives in Ronan. He says he fears he’ll lose control over his own well.

“We’re concerned because it’s not right, it makes no sense,” said Gale.

“They’re talking control…They call it non-consumptive use. It means controlling how much water is a minimum in all the major rivers and streams around here.” 

However, supporters argue that the Hellgate Treaty of 1855 gives tribal members a legal case to argue for rights over water off the Flathead Indian Reservation. CSKT Attorney Rhonda Swaney says the compact is a fair one. 

“People off the reservation are not going to be adversely impacted, there are provisions built into the compact to protect everybody, and where the water is coming from for the tribes, there is plenty of water there,” said Swaney.

“The purpose of this exercise is to quantify the tribes’ rights, so maybe they have not been exercised, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist”

The Montana Water Rights Compact Commission will finalize the proposal at a meeting on December 19. The following is a list of the remaining meetings:

POLSON - Wednesday November 28, 2012 Time: 9:00 am. Kwa TaqNuk Resort, 49708 US HWY 93 East, Polson, MT
HOT SPRINGS - Wednesday November 28, 2012 Time: 3:00 pm. Salish Senior Center, 214 N. Spring Street, Hot Springs, MT
THOMPSON FALLS - Wednesday November 28, 2012 Time: 7:30 pm. Thompson Falls High School Band Room, 601 Golf Street, Thompson Falls, MT
ARLEE - Thursday November 29, 2012 Time: 10:00 am. Arlee Senior Center, 106 Wessinger Street, Arlee, MT
HAMILTON - Thursday November 29, 2012 Time: 3:00 pm. Ravalli County Administrative Center, Third Floor Conference Room, 215 South 4th Street, Hamilton, MT
MISSOULA - Thursday November 29, 2012 Time: 7:30 pm. Double Tree Edgewater, Blackfoot Room, 100 Madison, Missoula, MT
DEER LODGE - Tuesday December 4, 2012 Time: 9:00 am. Powell County Community Center, 416 Cottonwood Avenue, Deer Lodge, MT
PHILIPSBURG - Tuesday December 4, 2012 Time: 2:00 pm. Granite County Museum, 135 N. Sansome Street, Phillipsburg, MT
OVANDO - Tuesday December 4, 2012 Time: 7:30 pm. Ovando School Gym, 108 Birch Street, Ovando, MT