Farmers Urge Congress to Ratify CSKT Water Compact


Last week several Montana farmers traveled back to Washington, D.C., to urge the Congressional Delegation to move ahead with ratifying the CSKT Water Compact, that the Montana Legislature approved four years ago.

Time is running out to approve the ratification of Compact, and the associated settlement legislation, because Congress only has until January 10th when the stay that was implemented by the Water Court will come to an end.

Irrigators like Jim Hagenbarth of Dillon, and Walt Sales of Manhattan say that they made the made the trip to talk to Congress this week, because they are worried that if Congress fails to act, and Montana loses the CSKT Compact, they could be forced into decades of litigation, in a court case that they likely won’t win.

Plus, without the Compact, the courts have ruled that tribes will be able to enforce their claims with “time immemorial” priority date.

Without the CSKT Compact, they say 73% of Montana irrigated acres could have their state-based water rights subject to in-stream claims by the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe.  In short, the impact to Montana Agriculture would be catastrophic.

Supporters are urging farmers and irrigators to send individual letters to Senators Tester and Daines and Congressman Gianforte, urging them to co-sponsor federal legislation to ratify the CSKT Water Compact and the associated settlement legislation:


Senator Daines:
Jason Thielman, Chief of Staff

Direct line: 202-228-9673

Ron Catlett, Northwest Montana Field Representative

Direct line: 406-257-3765

Congressman Gianforte:
Tripp McKemey, Legislative Assistant

Direct line: (202) 225–3211

Senator Tester:
Michael LaValley, Tribal Liaison

Direct line: (406) 452-5020

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Jim Hagenbarth

Not passing he compact would result in huge economic losses to individual property owners, the county tax base, the ecological amenities of the wetlands supported by irrigation and late stream flows supported by groundwater recharge from season log flood irrigation in the upper basins. The negative impact to the streams, rural communities, Montana’s adjudication process and Montana’s claim to water by not passing the CSKT Compact are unimaginable.


Irrigating the west is nothing new. We have rights that go back to the 1800’s. This is a political game that gives the tribes rights to water off the res.

This is bad legislation pushed by fear mongers.

It is unconstitutional and was pushed by people with personal agenda.

The tribes are supposed to be sovereign nations, they have no right to govern private citizens.

Susanna J Ruby

Please ratify the CSKT Water Compact. Not passing could result in huge economic losses to individual property owners and the county tax base. The negative impact to the streams, rural communities, Montana’s adjudication process and Montana’s claim to water by not passing the CSKT Compact are unimaginable. Please do your job and ratify this compact.

Walt Sales

What a great opportunity to have some certainty in our future, which after this summer and fall battling the weather would be a welcomed approach. Protecting what our past generations built has never been more important. We need a unified co-sponsored settlement to be presented.
One can only guess how many "tractor days" it takes to add up to one day in court???

Bruce P Tutvedt

The CSKT compact is very fair negociated document. It protects current Montana water right holders, has water available for future use and protects our great fishing resource.

Ilene Casey

The agricultural industry is vital to the Montana economy and a treasured way of life for many. The CSKT Compact protects agricultural existing water rights and secures critical water resources for Montanans on and off the Reservation—which is why we are respectfully asking our Congressional delegation to co-sponsor legislation for the settlement and implementation of the Compact for the well being of our state.

David Weaver

This is the issue you will regret not speaking out in favor of a year from now. The risks to your water rights and the added expense of having to adjudicate the tribal claims if the compact is not ratified are too great . This issue demands your attention and your vocal support.

Doug Braaksma

Please get this done as soon as possible. We have Junior water rights and on a average year we lose our water July 15. We cannot stand to lose it any earlier. If this doesn’t get passed it would disable us from raising Corn. Our pasture would also dry out and cost us a lot of money on extra feed.

Richard Duncan

We desperately need our Congressional delegation to co-sponsor and vote for the CSKT Compact and the supporting settlement legislation in this session of Congress.The future of the streamflow in the West Gallatin River north of I-90 is in jeopardy if the CSKT Compact does not pass.
I am the president of Upper Creamery Ditch, one of the 37 irrigation ditches that depend on the West Gallatin River for irrigation water under the West Gallatin decree – Bell vs. Armstrong 1909. Upper Creamery runs parallel to the river from Amsterdam Road to 1-90. Ninety percent of the water rights in our ditch are pre-1890. My water rights are 1872 and 1888 and my neighbors have 1865 water rights – part of the third oldest right on the West Gallatin River. Those old rights allow us to make the call to put a Water Commissioner on in late summer. The Water Commissioner redistributes the water from younger rights upstream to our old rights further downstream in the Central Park area. The West Gallatin at 1-90 has water in it in August because we are able to exercise that right. If the CSKT Compact does not pass, our old water rights will be superceded by “time immemorial” rights ceded to the Confederated Kootenai and Salish Tribes in the Treaty of Hellgate 1855. Passage of the CSKT Compact will allow us to keep the West Gallatin flowing beyond I-90 for irrigators and recreational users.


You are wanting to give up your water right, NO, NO, NO on the contract. FARM a grassroots org funded by the CSKT tribe is what is urging you to pass this! I urge you to read up on this.

Susan Duncan

I have been on the Board of the Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators for almost 15 years. We are an organization that represents about 400 agricultural irrigators in the Gallatin Valley. The CSKT Compact legislation has the most far reaching effects for Montana and Gallatin Valley irrigators and residents that I have seen in that time. Passage of this legislation provides security and stability in water for irrigators, recreation, and potential urban uses.

If the Compact fails to pass Congress
1. We have wasted decades of negotiations at the Federal, State, and tribal level.
2. Irrigators literally haven’t a legal leg to stand on in court to defend our rights (dating from the 1860’s in Gallatin County) against Indian claims in the upper Gallatin of “time immemorial” granted by the Treaty of Hellgate in 1855.
3. The State-wide Montana Water Court Adjudication (that is now coming to a conclusion after almost 40 years) will re-open to evaluate Indian claims. And no end of litigation in sight.
Pass the CSKT Compact and settlement legislation NOW and lets move on.

David Lake

As a flathead irrigation district commissioner and irrigator in the mission valley, I am concerned that Senator Daines and his staff are playing a political game of Russian roulette with water users all across Montana . There will be a lasting legacy ,either positively affecting the economy of Montana or a very real negative and potentially devastating economic impact to Montana.
I support ratification of the CSKT/Montana compact .

Arleen Rice

The CSKT compact represents 100’s of hours of negotiated,respectful,solutions that create a working network for water rights in Montana. To dismiss it, and go back to the table for further negotiations will be a loss for Montana farmers and ranchers relying on valuable guaranteed water agreements. Agriculture has been hit hard in Montana I cannot think of one grower who has funds to go into the courtroom to fight for water. This is a great solution folks, please support it. Our way forward to progress needs you to call and ask our delegation in Washington to give their support.


This is a power play by the tribes which should have no rights to nothing outside their property just like other Americans. If they aren’t American citizens they are a sovereign nation and should be cut off completely from federal programs.

Quit trying to scare people in to giving up their rights.

This is a bad piece of legislation. Tester is selling us out.

Janette Rosman

Tim, disappointed that you did not leave your last name. It’s so easy to be critical of the CSKT Compact and remain anonymous so the farmers don’t hunt you down if it does not pass because of you and the anti-compact people who you support. There are non-natives who live on the Reservation and passage of the CSKT Compact depends on their livelihood. The CSKT Compact is a negotiated document between the Salish, Kootenai Tribes, State of Montana and Federal Government. It was a document that took 20 some years of negotiating between those three entities and you Tim Nameless know more than they do, did? Janette Rosman

Jack Lake

As a generational family , fighting for fair water rights on our reservation I support the CSKT water compact. With Montana adjudication process mandated to be completed and tribal water claims to be settled I feel compact would in the best interest of all Montana’s.
Anti-compact people are being racist, or are ill informed, or have no skin in game on consequences of going to court or of adjusting farm practices with less or no water.
Time is critical for ratification, as our state and federal laws have deadlines on compact and water court adjudication.
Please support our last of 18 compacts negotiated by our state compact commission.

Walter Morris

I am shocked and also angered by this article that plainly states that several farmers traveled to Washington to present this to congress and then only lists two people that have shouted out the same statements, all of which a small group has repeated continually since prior to 2015 without eve3r offering any proof to any of their wildly imagined statements. How many times have we heard about Indian water rights with a time immemorial water right when there has never been any proven record of such documented water right. How can the CSKT Compact be called a negotiated agreement when only part of the parties involved ever were allowed to participate in the negotiations. There is nothing in the compact that justifies the taking away of water rights that have been legally challenged and lawfully been proven just and right over a period o over 100 years and replaced and given to people that have never knowingly used or applied for water rights or ever demonstrated use of such water rights. Please stop saying that the CSKT Compact will do anything to solve the water situation in Montana when it does exactly the opposite and is not only unconstitutional but legally and morally wrong.

Brent Poppe

Ratification needs to happen and the matter needs to be put to rest. No more messing around. No gamesmanship. No party politics. This issue is one that needs statesmen to address, handle, and work to resolve. The citizens, constituents, and impacted parties have done their job. Let’s see Washington DC get off the dime, go to work, and do something beneficial.

JM Peck

This is important legislation. This is a good deal. It is good because no one got everything they wanted but they everyone got what they needed. Re-litigating the arbitrations we have already completed will lead to the end of my career in agriculture and likely the end of our land being used for productive agricultural use.

Kathryn Kelly

This issue is of the utmost importance for the future of irrigated agriculture in all the areas affected by the CSKT compact. If the financial settlement currently before Congress does not pass and the compact fails, 10,000 native water claims will become active in the water court, all in accordance with state law. Those claims ALL pre-date ANY pioneer settler claims. All the money in the world fighting those claims will not change their priority date of time immemorial. On the Gallatin River alone, it will mean that water in canals, etc. will be shut off or severely restricted 3 weeks earlier than they are now. Devastating for ag in the Gallatin Valley. The compact is fair, well negotiated, well reasoned and must pass. Please voice your support now to Senators Tester and Daines and Congressman Gianforte.

Koy Holland

I’m a rancher in Southwest Montana and I support the CSKT Water Compact. Our water is too important to us! We are dependent on stream irrigation and value this resource tremendously as we live in a northern cool grass desert.

Sky Anderson

The time has come to push this across the finish line. Congress needs to make the last and final compact law so we can all move on.

Edwin Berry

To be realistic, the biggest threat to the Compact is Gianforte running for Governor. Although he has not made a formal statement on the Compact, he has refused to support it and all his far-right supporters oppose the Compact.

Now, on November 24, Trump Jr is coming to Montana to support Gianforte. I have been and am a strong supporter of President Trump, but I consider Trump Jr coming to Montana to support a particular candidate for governor in our primary election to be outrageous and interference in Montana elections.

That Gianforte pulled such a stunt turns me and likely half the Republican voters against him. Trump Jr does not understand Montana politics. He does not understand the candidates. He does not understand the importance of the Water Compact to Montana. He does not understand that Gianforte is a far-right plant to stop the Compact.

The governor election will be determined in the June 2 Republican primary. If Tim Fox wins the primary, he will be our next governor. He strongly supports the Compact. If Gianforte wins the primary, the Democrat candidate will be our next governor.

Trump Jr does not understand that his support of Gianforte will piss off a critical mass of Republican voters in Montana. So, Trump Jr has effectively supported a Democrat for governor because, after the information about the Compact comes out in the coming political battles, voters will not accept a governor who is against the Compact.

My book "Montana’s Last Indian Water Compact" on Amazon describes the Compact’s law, history, and politics.

The cskt water compact is a great piece of legislation and needs to be ratified by congress ASAP

Paul Guenzler

I am chairman of the Flathead irrgation district board an as a board representing
80 % of the irrgated acres under this project or 84,000 acres we have come out in
support of the compact. We urge that you finish this up an ratify this compact.
Also on a personal note I am 4 th generation rancher under this project who make our living off this land an cattle which makes us fully vested in this business. Without this compact the future will hold a whole new picture an out come here on the reservation. I urge our political people to finish up what said they would do!
Pass the compact .

Robert Gauthier

Treaties are recognized by the US Constitution. Respect for those Treaty agreements is represented in this very carefully and fully vetted Compact! It is time to pass it so certainty can be part of our economic future. As a Montana licensed Real Estate broker for nearly 40 years, I can assure you decades of water court process will negatively impact agriculture land prices.

Ed Berry

Compact opposition came primarily from the far-right Republicans. They elected more legislators per their population than the moderate Republicans elected.
Therefore, the far-right Republicans had more power in the legislature than the population they represented.

It may have been a miracle that the legislature approved the Compact by only one vote (as you can see if you study the vote data).

I explain the history, law, and politics of the Compact in my book "Montana’s Last Indian Water Compact" (on Amazon). I took a year of my life to write the book because I believe it will help Montanans elect a governor and representatives who support the Compact.

The 2000 Montana election will be about the Compact.

The Republicans who oppose the Compact support either Greg Gianforte or Dr. Al. Those who support the Compact will support Tim Fox when they learn in the coming debates who supports and who opposes the Compact.

According to US News, Tim Fox is the only Republican who is sure to win the final election.

Dick Erb

I raise hay on 220 irrigated acres in Moiese Valley, a very dry valley within the larger Mission Valley. For almost two decades I have been actively involved in water issues both as a private citizen and as a former commissioner on the Flathead Irrigation District board. The Compact provides a high degree of legal security that farms and ranches served by our irrigation project will continue to get irrigation water in the future as in the past. If the Compact fails, I am quite certain that Montana’s Water Court will provide for less water with less legal security.
The Compact also will provide large scale funding to help rehabilitate this rickety old project constructed one hundred years ago. The Water Court does not have the legal authority or financial resources.

Jason Kimm

I am a 5th generation Montana ag producer. My family has been the recipient and participant in the gift of and protection of irrigation water use since 1894. The opportunity to irrigate built a Gallatin Valley far different from one without the foresight of our ancestors in canal construction. It is our turn to step up to the plate. I am grateful to so many who have invested themselves in creating a compact that satisfies our needs as irrigators and seems to respect the needs of all involved parties. I am interested in agriculture. My wife and I have children that we hope to see interested in agriculture. My grandfather used to say, "If you want your kids to farm, you’ve got to talk good about it around the dinner table." If we instead are spending our next years and maybe decades figuring out a water situation that becomes unpredictable, enduring hours and $’s wasted in court rooms instead of foot prints in the field, I am not sure that dinner time conversations will inspire the next generations love of the land and production. There is plenty at stake here. Lets work together to pass the CSKT compact and get on with the hard but good work of agriculture.

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