This West Is OUR West

Irrigators plan next steps after Joint Board dissolved

 

February 19, 2018 at 7:09 pm | By ASHLEY FOX and PATRICK REILLY

Irrigators south of Flathead Lake are moving on after the Joint Board of Control was ordered to dissolve.

The board was created in 1981 to represent irrigators served by the Flathead Irrigation Project in the Flathead, Mission, and Jocko irrigation districts. It charged irrigators $5 per acre, taking in over $550,000 of revenue last year.

The board grew mired in controversy and disbanded in 2013 amid disagreements over the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact. It reformed in 2014. Earlier this month, the Missoulian reported that, in 2016 and 2017, the organization spent more than $1 million litigating its opposition to the water compact. Those funds proved badly spent. The compact passed the state Legislature in 2015 and now awaits federal and tribal ratification.

Then, in spring 2016, a water-users’ group called Mission Valley Irrigators United filed suit, alleging that it had violated state law by not holding an election upon reforming. Lake County District Court Judge James A. Manley sided with them Jan. 30, and ordered the board to dissolve.

On Tuesday, the irrigation districts held their first meeting after this decision. One of the attendees, longtime farmer and Mission Valley Irrigators member Susan Lake described it as “fairly quiet” and focused on administrative tasks.

At the meeting, Dean Brockway, a commissioner from the Jocko area, said the irrigators he’s talked to in his district do not have interest in reforming a joint board, Lake said.

She added that Mission Valley Irrigators shares this view, and doesn’t want a return to what she called “constant litigation.”

“Litigation has never worked,” she said. “ We live here [on the Flathead Reservation] together.” For everyone to benefit from the compact, she said, all sides “have to sit down together and make this work.”

Lake predicts that irrigators won’t see any changes resulting from the board’s dissolution.

Separately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is still looking into allegations that the board’s former executive director, Johanna Clark, misappropriated $221,000 of board funds.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407. Reporter Ashley Fox can be reached at afox@leaderadvertiser.com, or 883-4343.