Mont. AG wants to intervene in Flathead Indian Reservation lawsuit

By Bryan Cohen | May 27, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - Montana Attorney General Tim Fox asked the U.S. District Court in Missoula on Thursday for permission to intervene in a lawsuit related to water rights on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) filed a lawsuit in February to prevent the Montana Water Court and the 20th Judicial District Court from deciding multiple water rights claims on the reservation. The CSKT suit also sought a declaration that water rights for the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project belong to the U.S. and not to local irrigators or irrigation districts.

Fox's office prepared a proposed motion and supporting brief that requests the court dismiss the CSKT lawsuit. The brief argues the Montana Water Court is the proper court to make a determination of the competing water claims and the ownership of the project's water rights. Fox's office will file the brief if the federal court accepts the state's motion to intervene.

"Montana Water Court is the appropriate court for these matters to be heard and decided upon, but only after all parties have exhausted every effort to agree on a negotiated water compact," Fox said. "Bringing these claims to federal court is counterproductive and could derail efforts to reach a negotiated compact."

Last week, Fox's office filed amicus curiae briefs in cases in both the 20th Judicial District Court and the Montana Water Court requesting that the courts avoid ruling on water rights until the CSKT compact is complete.

"We are all Montanans, and we must work to settle this issue by coming together and discussing our shared interests and responsibilities as Montanans," Fox said. "Ultimately, we need a compact that can pass the state legislature and Congress. I urge all of the stakeholders to spend the coming months focused on constructive, civil dialogue that is informed by facts and not inflamed by rhetoric or expensive litigation."

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