water human right Montana

Finding common ground while talking on water

A Democrat, a Republican, a farmer, a developer and a couple of artists walk into a bar.

Last Tuesday at the Filling Station — one of those odd Bozeman bars where you’re not sure whether the crowd will be girls wearing half-shirts and glitter or a bunch of veterans talking about the good ol’ days — Interchange hosted an event with eight professionals from extremely different backgrounds all talking about one thing.


Those in attendance were: Susan Duncan, a freelance teacher and agriculturalist, who described herself as a translator from rural to urban areas; Bently Spang, a Northern Cheyenne artist; Kareen Erbe, a permaculturist (permaculture is agriculture designed to be self-sufficient); EJ Engler, an artist and architect; Steve White, a Republican Gallatin County commissioner; Carson Taylor, the Democratic mayor of Bozeman; Brian Popiel, from SWIMBIA, who is a developer; and Matt Kelley, Gallatin County health officer.

They connected over water, water rights, how we use water now, and how we will in the future. And to be honest, we’ve never seen a more diverse crowd talking about any subject.

Carson Taylor and Steve White were seated next to one another and often took turns answering questions about government, laughing when one of them would deflect a more complicated question to the other.

Taylor and White are from opposing parties.What’s more, the county is currently suing the city (bozemandailychronicle.com) over $1.1 million in street maintenance. Yet, both of them, along with the six other panelists, met on stage at the Filler and discussed the importance and future of water in Montana, civilly and respectfully.

No two people on that stage fully agreed with one another. But that’s exactly what Montana is all about. While the rest of the country is getting caught up in partisan crap, Montana is focused on the issues, not the political games. And we know that no one person or party can come up with all the answers. We’re a collaborative state, that comes up with real, fair solutions to the problems we face.

“One of the rules here is to avoid binary answers,” county Health Officer Matt Kelly said of water issues.

The panelists gave their views on how to balance agriculture, development, and nature. Kelly acknowledged that we need houses so people are safe and healthy, but we also need to listen to the county and its landscape on where to build and where not to.

“Listen to the land, listen to the ecology,” he said.

When EJ Engler was asked if water was a human right, he couldn’t decide.

“Stewardship is where we should focus,” he said, rather than saying yes or no.

“Water is a blessing,” Spang elaborated.

And Montanans know this. We’re all blessed to live in this state. When we remember that we should count water in our blessings, we become better stewards.

Did the panelists come up with the perfect solution to water usage in our state? Of course not. But discussions such as this one is how we’ll get close. When we have everyone in the room, connecting on common ground, we’ll find the solutions that will work for all of us.

-Andie Creel

Feature Photo by Mackenzie Lisac