Recent stories about a Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes U.S. District Court water lawsuit contained several inaccuracies. The lawsuit is asking the federal court to apply established federal law as it pertains to reserved water rights. To say the CSKT lawsuit claims tribal ownership of all the water is simply wrong. The tribal motivation of filing the lawsuit is to address a concerning situation where several parties are making water claims in state courts, but neither the tribes nor the United States are part of those suits.
This lawsuit is in no way intended to disrupt negotiations with the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission and the United States, which all share the goal of getting a CSKT water compact approved in the 2015 legislature.
This narrowly tailored lawsuit asks the federal court to declare the ownership of water delivered by the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.
Some have tried to define this lawsuit as a tribal legal claim to all water, when in reality this claim only addresses water rights claims inside of FIIP.
The tribes expressly informed the court that it was not the tribes’ intention to quantify anybody’s water rights as a result of this lawsuit.
The tribes filed the suit to seek an end to the numerous conflicting, inconsistent, and expensive state court litigations filed by the Flathead Irrigation District and the Western Water User’s Association. As said upfront, this federal suit was an effort to protect tribal rights.
This litigation addresses many of the arguments raised by opponents to the compact that did not pass the 2013 legislature and provides an avenue to have the court decide these issues.