As the Legislature prepares to take up a revised water compact, I’m encouraged by all of the new developments that will give Montanans stable and reliable access to water and erase the uncertainty that hangs over property owners across the state. And do all of this in a way that’s firmly grounded in the Constitution.
As a former legislator, I once had reservations about the compact, but this session, things are different, due in large part to the substantial improvements that have been made to address some of the reasonable concerns that some of us had about the compact. Most importantly, it has already drawn grassroots support from those who are closest to this debate — ranchers and farmers.
The compact will achieve several important goals, including protecting families and businesses so that access can be transferred to future generations or upon sale of land. It would also ensure complete protection for stock water, municipal water, domestic, commercial and other non-irrigation uses on and off the reservation.
What drew me to this important endeavor were the meaningful changes that have been made. For example, irrigators within the project will have a water delivery right that would establish a property interest that could be conveyed with the land.
Montanans should take comfort in the fact that a bipartisan committee of legislators conducted an exhaustive investigation and unanimously recommended changes that the compact negotiators have reviewed and are adding to the compact for the most part. This will lead to a more balanced compact that will protect Montana water users.
Everyone involved in making this happen should be commended. The state’s representatives and the CSKT have been working and negotiating in earnest and in public for years and have now developed a compact that is fair to all Montana water users and will protect all Montanans’ access to water. A series of public meetings was held across the state and served as a forum for public debate and input. Moreover, the documents being negotiated were made available for public inspection and scrutiny.
Without the compact, it will be extremely expensive and time-consuming to litigate everyone’s individual water rights claims and that will have a devastating effect on property values and the ability to sell those properties. And those many claims that are litigated will clog the water courts and cost taxpayers decades of time and millions of dollars.
And you don’t have to take just my word for it. Because of the hard work of the negotiators and the substantive changes they made to the compact, Governor Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox support it and organizations around the state will be coming forward in support of the compact in the coming weeks.
As a father of young children, I want this water quantified and defined for all of us. I urge not only my former colleagues in the Legislature, but all Montanans to support it.
Scott Reichner, a business owner and former Republican member of the legislature, is an honorary co-chair of Farmers and Ranchers for Montana, a grassroots coalition educating Montanans about the compact.