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Western Montana Water Users v. Mission Irrigation District

April 9, 2013

WESTERN MONTANA WATER USERS ASSOCIATION, LLC, ON BEHALF OF ITS MEMBERS, WHO OWN IRRIGATED LANDS WITH APPURTENANT WATER AND OTHER WATER RIGHTS WITHIN THE MISSION, JOCKO VALLEY, AND FLATHEAD IRRIGATION DISTRICTS, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE,
v.
MISSION IRRIGATION DISTRICT, JOCKO VALLEY IRRIGATION DISTRICT, FLATHEAD IRRIGATION DISTRICT, AND FLATHEAD JOINT BOARD OF CONTROL, DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, In and For the County of Lake, Cause No. DV-12-327 Honorable C.B. McNeil, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brian Morris

April 9 2013

Submitted on Briefs: April 3, 2013

Filed:

Clerk

Justice Brian Morris delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 The Mission Irrigation District, Jocko Valley Irrigation District, Flathead Irrigation District, and Flathead Joint Board of Control (collectively Irrigation Districts), appeal a writ of mandate issued by the Twentieth Judicial District Court, Lake County, on February 15, 2013. The writ of mandate enjoined the Irrigation Districts from entering into a Water Use Agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation and the United States. The writ of mandate rescinded and superseded an alternative writ of mandate the District Court had issued on December 14, 2012. The alternative writ of mandate directed the Irrigation Districts to comply with §§ 85-7-1956 and 85-7-1957, MCA, and correspondingly enjoined the Irrigation Districts from entering into a proposed agreement with the United States and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. We vacate both the District Court's writ of mandate and injunction and the District Court's alternative writ of mandate.

¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

¶3 Whether the District Court has issued a final appealable order?

¶4 Whether the District Court properly granted the writ of mandate and injunction?

¶5 Whether the District Court correctly determined that the Irrigation Districts had to comply with §§ 85-7-1956 and 85-7-1957, MCA, before they execute the Water Use Agreement?

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶6 The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Tribes) entered into the Hellgate Treaty with the United States in 1855. Treaty of Hellgate, July 16, 1855, 12 Stat. 975 (1859). This treaty created the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. Congress authorized and directed the allotment of land within the Flathead Reservation for homestead purposes in 1904. Section 8, Act of April 23, 1904, 33 Stat. 302 (1904).

¶7 Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior in 1908 to construct the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project (FIIP) to deliver irrigation water to irrigable lands on the Flathead Reservation. Act of May 29, 1908, 35 Stat. 444 (1908). The FIIP has provided individual tribal members and non-tribal members on the Flathead Reservation with water for irrigation. The Flathead Joint Board of Control and the United States both have submitted claims for these water rights in the Montana Water Court. The Western Montana Water Users Association, LLC (Water Users) comprise a group of landowners who claim to possess FIIP water rights for irrigation.

¶8 The Tribes claim to possess aboriginal water rights and water rights reserved by the Hellgate Treaty of 1855. Treaty of Hellgate, July 16, 1855, 12 Stat. 975 (1859). The Tribes claim that their water rights include the FIIP water used by individual tribal members and non-tribal members for irrigation. The State of Montana created a Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission (Commission) to negotiate a settlement of the water rights claimed by Indian tribes, including the Tribes' claim to the FIIP water rights. Section 85-2-702, MCA.

¶9 The State of Montana, the Tribes, and the United States negotiated a proposed Compact to settle the Tribes' water rights claim. The Irrigation Districts are not a party to the Compact. The Compact, which is not before us in this litigation, purportedly resolves the Tribes' water right claims, including the FIIP water used for irrigation by individual tribal members and non-tribal members.

ΒΆ10 The Tribes, the United States, and the Irrigation Districts drafted a second document as an appendix to the proposed Compact. This second document is the Water Use Agreement. The Water Use Agreement states that one purpose of the agreement is to "settle the ...


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