PABLO — The chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) is acknowledging the many people who helped craft the settlement over water rights in the Flathead Basin.
She’s expressing enthusiasm about what the agreement means for water users, wildlife and fish habitat and the thousands of jobs that will be created in the years to come.
On Tuesday, Congress approved the Montana Water Rights Protection Act, a bipartisan effort to resolve the decades-long dispute over the water rights granted under the 1855 Hellgate Treaty.
The $1.9 billion measure is a sweeping piece of legislation that heads off litigation and provides a major infusion of money to upgrade the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, from its headwaters to the farms and ranches across the basin.
During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Tribal Chairwoman Shelly Fyant gave thanks to Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester, Representative Greg Gianforte, Governor Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox — as well as the long list of tribal leaders and staff over the years that created what she calls a “momentous day” for the tribe.
“This will conclude a very long effort to quantify the water rights of the Salish, Qlispe, and Ksanka people. We chose the path of negotiation and now we can avoid decades of acrimonious litigation on streams across much of Montana. And protect many streams with sufficient amounts of water to ensure that fish can survive,” Fyant said.
Fyant says the Tribal Council will be meeting soon to discuss what process will be used to ratify the settlement.