Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission
The Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission was created by the Montana legislature in 1979 to:
- conclude compacts for the equitable division and apportionment of waters between the State and its people and the several Indian Tribes claiming reserved water rights within the state
(MCA 85-2-701), and
- between the State and its people and the federal government claiming non-Indian reserved waters within the state (MCA 85-2-703).
On December 10, 2014, the negotiating parties reached agreement that respects CSKT tribal rights, while ensuring that irrigators and residents in the region continue to have access to a reliable water supply. The Compact is the result of constructive negotiations where all parties sought common ground in the best interests of the state and Tribe. The Compact, which was negotiated through the Reserved Water Rights Commission and includes recommendations from the legislature's Water Policy Interim Committee, will make new water available for commercial and irrigation use, end the water administration void on the Flathead Reservation, allow economic development under conditions of legal certainty, and facilitate the resolution of the statewide water adjudication process. In addition, the Compact establishes a technical team with irrigator representation which will implement water compact provisions relating to diversions of water into the irrigation project so that irrigator historic use is protected and tribal in-stream flow targets are met. The Compact has been subject of more than a decade of negotiations. The 2013 legislature did not approve a previous version of the compact. Over the summer, Governor Bullock and tribal leaders agreed to open limited negotiations on language in the Compact. This revised Compact will be presented to the 2015 legislature for approval. The legislature has approved water compacts for every other tribal reservation in Montana.
A federal reserved water right is a right to water that is created when Congress or the president reserves land out of the public domain. These rights must be resolved as part of Montana's statewide adjudication process.
The Compact Commission includes nine members, each serving a four-year term. Two are appointed by the Speaker of the House, two by the President of the Senate, one by the Attorney General's office and four by the Governor's office. The Commission negotiates on behalf of the Governor's Office. A five-member legal and technical staff, attached to DNRC for administrative purposes, supports the Commission.
The 2013 Montana Legislature approved the compacts with the US Bureau of Land Management for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument; and the US Fish & Wildlife Service for the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation was approved by the RWRCC but failed to win approval of the 2013 Legislature (HB 629). A bill to extend the adjudication filing deadline (SB 265) was vetoed by Governor Bullock. The Commission did not ‘sunset’ and continues to function with an unaltered mandate and authority.
Since its inception the Commission has negotiated and the Legislature approved 17 compacts with six tribes and five federal agencies in Montana. Completed tribal compacts are with: Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation; Northern Cheyenne Tribe; Crow Tribe; Gros Ventre & Assiniboine of the Fort Belknap Reservation; the Chippewa Cree of the Rocky Boy's Reservation, and the Blackfeet Tribe. The Commission and staff are working on federal legislation for the Blackfeet (2009) compact and the Fort Belknap (2001) compact. The Crow (1999) federal legislation was approved by Congress in 2010 and ratified by the tribal members in March 2011. Federal compacts have been completed with: National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Agricultural Research Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.