(U.S. Senate)—Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines today pushed the authorization of the Blackfeet Water Compact through the U.S. Senate.
As members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester and Daines worked together to include authorization for the Blackfeet Water Compact in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which passed the Senate 95-3.
The Blackfeet Water Compact 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.
“Today marks a major milestone for the Blackfeet Tribe,” Tester said. “I will continue to work with folks to find the funding that is needed to get this compact across the finish line and ensure that families, communities, and farms and ranches on the Blackfeet Reservation have reliable access to clean water.”
“This is a good day for Montana and the Blackfeet Nation. This long-overdue agreement will not only establish the tribe’s water rights, but will also facilitate real, tangible benefits for the Blackfeet and surrounding communities,” Daines stated. “The bill will improve several federal water structures that are some the oldest and most-in-need of-repair in the country and help irrigate some of our most productive farmland in our state. It’s great to see strong momentum for this important bill and I will continue to work to see it through to the finish line.”
Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes praised the passage of the compact.
“As Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe, I am thrilled to see this water compact has moved another step in the process. We are appreciative of Senators Tester and Daines for their effort on our behalf during this very long and arduous process,” said Barnes. “The Blackfeet Tribe is excited about today’s news, and while we still have some work to do, this is a very important step toward securing and protecting our water rights.”
In order for the Blackfeet Water Compact to be fully enacted, the House of Representatives must authorize it before the end of the year. Tester and Daines will continue to work as members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure the funding needed to carry out the projects included in the compact.
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 needs Congressional approval.
The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act will:
- 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.