Group from Lake County hosts water rights discussion in Superior

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Cary Bass discusses current water rights negotiations at the Flathead Reservation and how they will impact Mineral County.

SUPERIOR - A group of concerned citizens of Lake County hosted a forum at the multi-purpose room of Superior High School on Oct. 18 to discuss current negotiations on water rights.

According to the group, the current negotiations will impact all of Western Montana because changes will be made to water rights concerning how they are administered and priority dates.

"This is something that is near and dear to everyone’s heart, our water and how it can be used," Cary Bass of Lake County said. "I am here with some other folks to discuss the reserved water rights compact on the Flathead Reservation. It has been in the works for more than a decade and it will be in the legislature for discussion in 2013."

Bass went on to state that there are seven Indian tribes in the state and the Flathead Reservation is the last to finalize water compacts with the state and federal government.

"We refer to it as the granddaddy of all water compacts," Bass said. "We only recently became aware of the issue even though we live under the boundaries of the reservation - it was flying under the radar. Little has been done to make the public aware of it."

Bass added that when she and other members of the community found out about the compact they began researching the issue.

"What we discovered is that this isn’t just a Flathead problem," Bass said. "This compact will affect 11 counties and more than 350,000 people in Western Montana – it is huge."

According to Bass and her group, misinformation with regards to the compact has been circulating in order to "lull people into the sense that this is merely business as usual."

"We are not water experts," Bass said. "We are merely concerned citizens who understand how important it is to get the word out about it."

A video was then played that went over the compact and the main issues of the water compact and how the compact will impact places such as Mineral County.

The video stated that the water compact rights negotiations could impact the population’s ability to make a living off of their land because it would give the Flathead Reservation priority rights over all of the water that flows from the reservation area.

Rivers affected by current negotiations of the compact agreement are the Kootenai River Drainage, the Flathead River Basin, the Upper Clark Fork and Blackfoot River Basins, the Swan River Drainage and the Bitterroot River Basin.

Further elaboration was made on how these negotiations could affect the residents of Mineral County and all of Western Montana as well.

When the video concluded a brief question and comment period was held where attendees were able to give their thoughts and concerns about the compact.

Bass and her group are visiting all of the counties they say will be impacted by the water compact with a "goal that we can develop a network of people committed to fighting this compact if it is not something that the people of Western Montana can live with."

The group encouraged attendees to do further research on the water compact and share their findings with friends and family to continue to educate people on the issue.

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