Sunday, October 19, 2014

Prove It!

One of the canards about the Salish Kootenai Water Compact that opponents never tire of trotting out is that the compact will take away the water rights of private citizens living all over western Montana. If you attend enough public meetings up in the Flathead, or read the letters to the editor, or listen to Tea Party legislative candidates, you’ll hear this claim all the time, coming from all sorts of people, including a handful of legislators who should know better and be a lot more careful about their public pronouncements. I don’t know if these folks really believe what they are saying or are simply following the advice of the propagandist who claimed that if you say something often enough, people will begin to believe it, but I do know this:

I’m getting really fed up with this nonsense.

Part of the problem is that I serve on the Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, which is the outfit that is negotiating the compact on behalf of the state. The Commission, and especially its staff, have put in endless hours negotiating a settlement that carefully protects the rights and interests of Montana citizens living on and off the Flathead Reservation, so when someone comes along and tells us that we have violated our oath of office, defiled the Constitution, exceeded our authority and sold our fellow citizens down the river, I take it pretty badly.

Of course the real problem here is not my ruffled feelings. It is, rather, the fact that the claim is just not true: The Compact doesn’t take anybody’s water or property rights away. Proving that is not as hard as it sounds but it does take some time. Obviously, there’s no clause I can steer you to saying “This compact doesn’t take away anybody’s water rights;” a list of clauses saying everything the compact doesn’t do would potentially be infinitely long. But if you comb through the document (I’m not suggesting you actually do that, but if you want to, here’s the link) and try to find a provision, any one little provision, that actually effects the taking of a water right, you won’t find one.

Now I can almost hear compact opponents howling that you most certainly will; that the fatal provision is in there somewhere and you just haven’t looked hard enough. But here’s the thing: not once, not one single time, have I ever heard anyone cite any provision in the compact to back up the claim that water rights are being taken. And if they can’t do that, the claim is hollow.

So here’s a challenge to the people who are going to stand up at negotiating sessions and public meetings and legislative hearings and claim, yet again, that the compact is a bundle of takings: Prove it. Show us the provisions you think make takings happen. Tell us clearly just what water rights you believe are being taken. In short, be responsible for the truth of what you say. That’s the price of admission to a civil and productive conversation about any issue we really care about.

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