(U.S. Senate) – Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines introduced legislation to finalize a decades-old water rights settlement for the Blackfeet tribe.
The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act will resolve all claims to water rights on the Blackfeet Reservation and ensure access to reliable and clean water for the communities within the Reservation, as well as farms, ranches, and businesses in the surrounding area.
“Folks in Montana came together, worked out their differences, and built this agreement that has earned bipartisan support,” Tester said, Vice Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “The Blackfeet Tribe has waited too long. It’s time for Congress to honor this agreement that works for the tribe, local communities and landowners.”
“This agreement is the direct result of Montanans working together to do what’s right,” Daines said. “The compact has experienced substantial agreement between the Department of Interior, the Tribe and other key stakeholders, but after years of waiting, has yet to move forward. It’s time to get it across the finish line.”
“On behalf of the Blackfeet Tribe, I would like to thank both Senators for their unwavering support of the Tribe and efforts relating to this critical legislation,” Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes said. “The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement is the culmination of over two decades of work by the Tribe. It represents a historic breakthrough in the Tribe’s century long battle to secure and protect its water rights.”
Negotiations between the Blackfeet Tribe, local communities, and the state and federal governments began over 30 years ago to establish water rights in and around the Blackfeet Reservation. A formal agreement was passed by the Montana Legislature in 2009 but now needs Congressional approval.
The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act would:
- Establish the Tribe’s water rights in all six drainages within the reservation.
- Rehabilitate the aging Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project.
- Give the Blackfeet Tribe the ability to use, lease, contract, or exchange water on tribal land.
- Protect the rights of non-Indian water users and members of the Fort Belknap Indian Community.
- Develop Reservation water resources and promote economic development.
Senator Tester originally introduced this legislation in 2010.
The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act can be read HERE.