Daines’ Bipartisan Bill to Settle Montana’s Final Indian Water Rights Settlement One Step Closer to Becoming Law

Daines’ “Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act” passes out of committee, heads to Senate floor

U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senator Steve Daines today at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing applauded the passage of his bipartisan “Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act.” The historic bill would finalize Montana’s last Indian water rights settlement.

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“This is a historic step for Montana. It is a bipartisan agreement, the Fort Belknap Water Rights Compact, the last compact for the state of Montana. We are now one step closer to getting this to the President Biden’s desk. There has been a lot of work has gone on over the last century, a lot of work over a decade, and a lot of work over the last six months and the last week to get to where we are at here today. This bill supports our tribal and non-tribal farmers and ranchers, supplies safe and clean drinking water for the tribe, solidifies water rights for tribal and non-tribal water users and importantly invests in infrastructure for thousands of Montanans on the Hi-Line. There’s a lot of work left to do, but this is a really important day, an important milestone. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill across the finish line,” Daines said.

Last week, Daines thanked President Stiffarm and Montana Lieutenant Governor Juras for their work to finalize the settlement and highlighted the importance of passing his bill at a Senate Indian Affairs hearing.

Daines introduced the bipartisan “Fort Belknap Water Rights Settlement Act” in June.


“The Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act of 2023” will provide $1.3 billion to improve infrastructure and economic development for the Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) and improve the efficiency of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Milk River Project, which furnishes water for the irrigation of about 121,000 acres of Tribal and non-Tribal land. The bill will also restore tribal management to 37,582 acres of state and federal land for the FBIC.

The bipartisan bill is supported by the FBIC, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, and conservation groups across the state. A water rights settlement is also supported by local irrigators.

After more than a decade of negotiations, the FBIC Tribal Council approved its Water Compact with the State of Montana in 2001. The Montana Legislature approved the Compact later that spring. FBIC and the congressional delegation have worked together for years to bring together partners to advance this critical settlement. The Compact and Settlement must now pass-through Congress, be approved by a simple majority vote of FBIC members, and the Compact must be submitted to the Montana Water Court and be entered into the Montana Water Court as a final decree.

Supporters of the bipartisan bill include:

  • Governor Gianforte
  • Fort Belknap Indian Community Council
  • Blaine County Commissioners
  • Hill County Commissioners
  • Phillips County Commissioners
  • Valley County Commissioners
  • Montana Farm Bureau Federation
  • Montana Stockgrowers Association
  • St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group
  • Milk River Joint Board of Control
  • Blaine County Conservation District