12.05.19

Daines Resolves Century Old Dispute, Proposes New Settlement Framework to Permanently Protect Water Rights for All Montanans

Requires CSKT Tribe to Permanently Relinquish 97% of all Water Rights Claims Across Montana, Save Taxpayers Over $400 Million

U.S. SENATE – After years of negotiations, U.S. Senator Steve Daines today announced that he has reached an agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) on a new framework for a permanent water settlement. Daines will introduce the Montana Water Rights Protection Act which permanently eliminates 97% of all CSKT’s water rights claims across Montana, saves taxpayers over $400 million and protects the water rights of all Montanans.

“After years of negotiations and hard work, I’m pleased to announce we have reached a new agreement that permanently settles a century old water dispute in Montana and protects the water rights of all Montanans,” Daines said. “The ‘Montana Water Rights Protection Act’ will permanently eliminate almost all of CSKT’s water claim rights across Montana with prejudice, save taxpayers over $400 million, and give all water users across Montana protection and certainty.”

The elimination of 97% of all CSKT’s water rights claims across Montana is with prejudice, meaning they are permanently relinquished.

Last month, the Trump Administration expressed support for a settlement that would avoid litigation.

The Montana Water Rights Protection Act protects Montanans’ due process by giving them access to state courts over water disputes between tribal and non-tribal members. It also affirms Montanans’ Constitutional protection that the water of the State of Montana belongs to all the people for their common benefit (Article IX, Section 3). It will prevent years of costly litigation for Montana water users, and provide much needed certainty for all parties involved.

Since coming to Congress, Daines has been actively engaged with members of the CSKT, Montana State Legislators, irrigators, and other stakeholders in reaching an agreement.

Key Facts of the Montana Water Rights Protection Act:

  • Protects water rights of all Montanans across the state
  • Permanently relinquishes 97% of all CSKT’s water claim rights with prejudice across Montana
    • Requires further 2.7% of remaining claims to be co-owned by the state of Montana and the remaining .3% will be limited to protecting fishing habitat by maintaining in stream flows and protecting outdoor economy
  • Saves taxpayers over $400 million vs. alternative proposals
  • Prohibits the sale of water out of the State of Montana
  • Provides critical resources to upgrade and improve water infrastructure
  • Conserves critical fish habitat across NW Montana

Key Differences from Alternative Proposals:

  • Reduces settlement costs by over $400 million vs. alternative proposals
  • Agreement by CSKT to permanently relinquish 97% of all water rights claims with prejudice across Montana
    • Requires further 2.7% of remaining claims to be co-owned by the state of Montana and the remaining .3% will be limited to protecting fishing habitat by maintaining in stream flows and protecting outdoor economy
  • Protect Montanans’ due process by giving them access to state courts over water disputes between tribal and non-tribal members
  • Agreement by CKST of language that affirms Montanans’ Constitutional protection that the water of the State of Montana belongs to all the people for their common benefit

More Details:

  • Provides CSKT with $1.9 billion to settle damages and rehabilitate the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project (FIIP)
  • Provides $10 million in road infrastructure funds to Lake and Sanders Counties
  • Requires the Unitary Management Board to cross-file water records with Montana DNRC and requires all meetings and proceedings open to the public

Background:

  • Earlier this month, the Trump Administration expressed support for a settlement that would avoid litigation.
  • In October, Daines sent a letter to the Department of the Interior requesting a formal review and guidance of alternative proposals.
  • In 2018, Daines met with legislators and irrigators who were proposing “the People’s Compact,” and worked to address their concerns with the state passed compact.

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