Dozens show up in Helena to debate CSKT water compact - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Dozens show up in Helena to debate CSKT water compact

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Lawmakers are getting an earful in Helena as they conduct the first hearing of the session over the controversial Flathead Water Compact.

The agreement seeks to set up a court-ordered allocation plan to manage the water in the Flathead Basin, making accommodations for fisheries and other uses as dictated by the 1855 Hellgate Treaty.

The pact has been under negotiation for years between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the State of Montana, and the federal government.

The latest draft of the treaty was revised after a new round of limited negotiations between the parties over the past year.

Those revisions include provisions for steps like a "shared storage" that aims to balance water for fisheries and irrigation, and an improved use of historic water data in making water allocations.

The revised pact has won broad support from state leaders, and some farm and ranch interests.

But many of the people that crowded the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday are still concerned about issues like "off reservation" water rights, and surety of supply, especially for properties in the Mission Valley.

Monday morning's hearing is expected to be the first of several as the Legislature considers the bill to implement the pact that was introduced by Republican state Sen. Chas Vincent of Libby.

Lawmakers failed to approve the previous version of the compact two years ago. But without action this session, the dispute is likely headed for litigation.

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