Some of the history behind the completion of the Compact

Water Compact | Chronological Highlights


The Hellgate Treaty establishes the Flathead Indian Reservation, a 1.3 million acre reserved area in exchange for the 22 million acres of aboriginal territory. The treaty contains language setting the Tribes’ rights in usual and accustomed places outside of the Reservation, thereby forming the basis for claims to water rights within aboriginal territory.


Construction begins on Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, which was authorized in 1904. This leads to an influx of white settlers and unrecoverable modification to the land and water resources of the Reservation.


Filing of Tribal and Federal water rights claims before the Montana Water Court are stayed, pending negotiations with the Montana Reserved Water Rights Commission.


Following a Ninth Circuit Court decision, interim instream flows and minimum reservoir pool elevations are established at stream and reservoir locations influenced by the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.


The Ciotti line of lawsuits comes before the Montana Water Court determine that Montana State Law, as applied to permitting of and changes of use of water rights, is not applicable on the Reservation. This stays the process to file for new uses of water on the Reservation, and places in limbo, water put to use following the Ciotti cases.


Negotiations accelerate between the Tribes, the State of Montana, and the United States to resolve the Tribes’ reserved and aboriginal water rights.


A Water Rights Settlement package, including a Compact and appendices, a Unitary Administrative Ordinance, and a Water Use Agreement are finalized and presented to the Montana State Legislature. The 2013 Legislature does not pass this version of the Compact.

Following failure of the 2013 State Legislature to pass the Compact, the Montana Legislative Water Policy Interim Committee takes the proposed Compact under review, forms a technical working group, and initiates a legal and policy review of the Compact. The Water Policy Interim Committee and work group engage the Compact up to the 2015 Montana legislative session.


The Proposed Compact and associated materials are prepared as Montana Senate Bill 262. Both pass in the Montana House and Senate.


The Tribes and the United States file their water rights claims with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) in order to protect the Tribes’ rights should the Compact not reach full ratification. Claims are submitted with a request to Water Court to stay action on the claims pending full ratification of the Compact.

December 21

Congress passed the Montana Water Rights Project Act.

December 27

Former President Trump signed it into law.

December 29

CSKT’s Tribal Council approved the compact and ordinance.

December 29

CSKT’s Tribal Council approved the compact and ordinance.

September 17

Date the Compact was enacted.

February 2

The Flathead Reservation Water Management Board, made of five voting members, was fully formed.


The Water Engineer, Ethan Mace, was hired.


The Office of the Water Engineer, staff, and the FRWMB board have approved more than 300 domestic well permits, issued multiple water rights and accepted three substitute wells.

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