After years of negotiations, Senators lead charge to pass historic water rights agreement
(U.S. Senate)—Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines today led the charge to push the Blackfeet Water Compact through the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and onto the Senate floor.
This decades-in-the-making agreement will resolve water rights claims 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. This compact will save taxpayers millions by avoiding costly litigation between the Blackfeet Tribe and the federal government.
“Reliable access to clean water is critical to the health and safety of every community,” said Tester, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. “This historic agreement has been years in the making and it provides certainty for local families, businesses, farms, and ranches. This markup is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go in order to do right by Blackfeet.”
“This water settlement is critical to the future of the Blackfeet people, important to the state of Montana and is long-overdue,” Daines stated. “This is a positive step forward in protecting the tribe’s water rights while also balancing the needs of the state and local community. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Tester to get this important bill across the finish line and provide the Blackfeet people the certainty they deserve.”
“The Blackfeet Tribe is extremely pleased to have reached this historic milestone in a process that has dragged on for years. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has struggled but not given up on this important piece of legislation” stated Harry Barnes, Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.“We especially thank Senator Jon Tester for his tireless work on this bill and Senator Daines for his support. This bill will give federal recognition to the Water Compact negotiated between the State of Montana and the Blackfeet Tribe over nearly 30 years.”
The Blackfeet Water Compact will:
- Establish the Tribe’s water rights in all six drainages within the reservation, including St. Mary River, Milk River, Cut Bank Creek, Two Medicine River, Badger Creek, and Birch Creek.
- Give the Blackfeet Tribe the ability to use, lease, contract, or exchange water on tribal land.
- Rehabilitate and upgrade the aging Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project.
- Develop Reservation water resources, invest in water infrastructure, and promote economic development.
Senator Tester originally introduced this legislation alongside Senator Baucus in 2010. In 2009, the Montana Legislature overwhelmingly passed the Blackfeet Water Compact.