12.10.16

Daines Hails Passage of Blackfeet Water Compact, Applauded By Senate Leaders

U.S. SENATE —U.S. Senator Steve Daines today hailed the passage of the Blackfeet water compact in the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN) Act. 

The authorization of Blackfeet water compact is included in the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which includes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). 

The WIIN Act authorizes the Blackfeet water compact and ends decades of litigation and paves the way for more than 400 million of investment water, irrigation and infrastructure projects.

"Today is a historic day for the Blackfeet Tribe, Montana farmers, ranchers and families, ” Daines stated. “The Blackfeet water compact will update decades old infrastructure, strengthen irrigation for agriculture and protect habitat.” 

Earlier tonight, Daines spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of the Blackfeet water compact to Montana farmers, ranchers, families and the Blackfeet Tribe.

 

Click here to download Daines’ remarks.

Click here to watch Daines’ remarks. 

The U.S. House Natural Resource Committee passed this legislation on November 16, 2016 and passed the WIIN Act on December 8, 2016. 

“I’m incredibly proud and humbled to work with our Senators and the Tribe to deliver this historic victory for the Blackfeet Nation,” said Congressman Zinke. “The Blackfeet are warriors and they have given up so much during this long process. Water is more than a drinking source to the Blackfeet, it’s their life source and we must respect and honor their culture and rights. I’m grateful for the guidance of Chairman Barnes through this process. The Blackfeet have waited long enough for this compact, but their day has finally come.” 

Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes: “On behalf of the Blackfeet Nation, as Chairman, I extend my congratulations and deepest gratitude to Senator Daines, Senator Tester and Representative Zinke for helping us to shepherd the Blackfeet water compact through Congress.  It’s been a somewhat tumultuous journey, but all of the Montana delegation has steadfast supported the Blackfeet for which we are indebted. This is an historic event for the Blackfeet. While we still have steps, we have never been this far. For a ten year battle, we finally see some sunlight and we owe that in a large part to the Montana delegation.  We as the Blackfeet tribe look forward to continuing to work with Senator Daines, Senator Tester and Representative Zinke on the issues that are good for not only the Blackfeet Tribe but for the state of Montana.” 

The chairmen of the committees with jurisdiction over the bill, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Jim Inhofe (R-OK), praised Daines’ efforts. 

“I want to commend Senator Daines for securing the inclusion of the Blackfeet water settlement in the Water Resources Development Act,” said Chairman Barrasso. “This important bill will authorize, ratify, and confirm the Blackfeet-Montana water rights compact.”

“The Blackfeet water compact balances the need of the state and the local community,” Chairman Inhofe stated. “I appreciate Senator Daines’ dedication to seeing the Blackfeet water compact included in this bipartisan bicameral bill.” 

The House and Senate both overwhelmingly passed WRDA bills earlier this year, and the WIIN Act is the product of the resulting bicameral negotiations. 

Among the benefits the legislation will bring about, it will improve six significant drainages and several federal water structures that are some of the oldest and most in need of repair in the country. The compact will also keep wildlife and fish habitat healthier and municipal water supplies cleaner. Furthermore, it upholds agreements by the state that will strengthen irrigation for neighboring farmlands called Montana’s “Golden Triangle” for its wheat production, in addition to its rich barley and hay. 

The Blackfeet Water Settlement Act, accompanied with the State of Montana’s investments, also upholds the Birch Creek Agreement, which ensured that water would remain deliverable to nearby farmlands, such as the Pondera County Canal and Reservoir Company which supplies water to approximately 450 water users for irrigation and stock watering purposes and provides municipal water to the citizens of the City of Conrad, Montana (pop. 2570) and area residents. This agreement ensures nearby productive farmlands remain productive well into the future by providing federal investment in the Four Horns infrastructure.

The Compact also helps spur more investment in the St. Mary’s Facilities of the Milk River Project—which helps provide water to over 14,000 Montanans and irrigates over 100,000 acres on 600 plus farms across the Hi-Line.

Timeline on the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement:

  • Modern efforts to quantify the Blackfeet Tribe’s reserved water rights began in 1979 when the State of Montana filed suit in State court as part of the statewide water rights adjudication proceeding.  
  • At the same time, the United States filed a case in federal court in Montana to adjudicate the Tribe’s reserved water rights claims.
  • The question of jurisdiction that arose as a result of the two lawsuits was decided in 1983 by the United States Supreme Court, which held that state court was the appropriate forum to adjudicate tribal reserved water rights pursuant to the McCarran Amendment, 43 U.S.C. § 666.
  • In 1989, the Tribe initiated negotiations with the Montana Compact Commission.
  • In 1990, the Department of the Interior appointed a federal Negotiation Team to assist in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Tribe’s reserved water rights claims.  
  • The State of Montana and the Tribe reached an agreement in 2007 in the form of a Compact.
  • On March 16, 2009, the Montana State House passed the agreement by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 87-12.
  • On March 20, 2009, the Montana State Senate passed the agreement by a nearly unanimous vote of 48-2.
  • Federal legislation to authorize the Compact was first introduced in 2010 and has been reintroduced every Congress since, including on April 28, 2015 by Senators Tester and Daines.
  • Since its initial introduction, the administration has been negotiating with the Tribe and the State to resolve important federal concerns relating to cost, cost sharing, federal interests, and federal responsibilities.
  • On February 3, 2016 the legislation passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for the first time, marking the first committee vote on Indian water rights legislation in more than five years.
  • On May 24, 2016, the House Committee on Natural Resources held its first-ever hearing on the legislation.
  • On November 15, 2016, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed the legislation out of committee.
  • On September 15, 2016, the Senate passed the legislation as part of Water Resources Development Act.

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