Daines Calls for Prioritized Funding for Tribal Water Projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines is working to ensure that Montana tribes have the resources they need to maintain irrigation projects on Montana reservations.

During today’s Senate Indian Affairs Committee legislative hearing on S. 438, the Irrigation Rehabilitation and Renovation for Indian Tribal Governments and Their Economies Act (IRRIGATE Act), Daines stressed the importance of fixing the maintenance backlog issues facing a number of irrigation projects throughout Indian Country, including five in Montana. Daines also reiterated his support for funding additional authorized rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation, including those on the Fort Peck and Rocky Boy Reservations.

Today’s hearing was also attended by Charles Headdress Sr., Councilman for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, from Poplar, Montana.

In the hearing, Daines and Councilman Headdress discussed the $12.7 million dollar total backlog of deferred maintenance on the Fort Peck Reservation Irrigation System, and how the price tag for deferred maintenance is growing every day.

“Repairing the project would allow us to put our lands and revenues to better use and it will make sure that we are able to productively use our farm lands,” Councilman Headdress stated. “This will greatly help us to efficiently use our water resources also.”

Daines also pressed Indians Affairs Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn about how the Bureau of Indian Affairs can responsibly fund these integral projects without adding to our national debt.

“The concern is with these continuing delays is that the price keeps going up, the deferred maintenance keeps going up, and we’re losing the economic growth opportunities for the people of Montana,” Daines stated.

Daines secured Secretary Washburn’s commitment to work together to find the necessary savings to prioritize funding for tribal irrigation projects.

Daines is an original cosponsor of the IRRIGATE Act, which would authorize funding from the revenues in the Reclamation Fund to address the deferred maintenance needs of certain Bureau of Indian Affairs irrigation projects, including any structures, facilities, equipment, or vehicles used in connection with the projects. It would also require a longer-term study on the operations of these projects. 

Montana currently faces the largest maintenance backlog of Indian irrigation projects.

The full text of the IRRIGATE Act is available here.

Video of Senator Daines’ remarks from today’s hearing is available here.