12.11.19

Daines, Tester Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Permanently Settle CSKT Water Dispute, Protect Water Rights of All Montanans

U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester today introduced the bipartisan Montana Water Rights Protection Act (MWRPA), a new agreement to permanently settle the century-old CSKT water dispute, and protect the water rights of all Montanans.

“After years of hard work and negotiations with the Tribe and other stakeholders across Montana, I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation today that will permanently protect the water rights of all Montanans,” Daines said. “This bipartisan bill and settlement is a good-faith compromise that will bring final resolution to a century long water dispute, avoid years of costly litigation, and save taxpayers over $400 million. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress, as well as the Trump administration, to get this important settlement for all of Montana across the finish line and signed into law.”

“This bill will help bring years of uncertainty for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, taxpayers, farmers, and ranchers to an end,” Tester said. “I’m glad the CSKT Water Compact now has the backing of folks on both sides of the aisle as well as the Trump Administration—so we can move full-steam ahead to honor our trust and treaty responsibilities, prevent costly litigation, boost economic development in the region, and give long-overdue piece of mind to everyone in Northwest Montana who uses our state’s most valuable resource.”

This bipartisan legislation will not have to be voted on by the State of Montana.

To download a copy of the bill, click HERE.

Key Facts of MWRPA:

  • Protects water rights of all Montanans across the state
  • Upholds the United States’ treaty and trust obligations to the Salish and Kootenai people
  • Permanently relinquishes 97% of all CSKT’s water claim rights with prejudice across Montana
  • Saves taxpayers over $400 million
  • Prohibits the sale of water outside the State of Montana
  • Returns management of the National Bison Range to CSKT, while protecting public access to the Range in statute. No such provision currently exists.
  • Provides critical resources to upgrade and improve water infrastructure
  • Conserves critical fish habitat across NW Montana
  • Authorizes a process where the Department of the Interior, on behalf of CSKT, can negotiate with the State for future land swaps.
  • Provides CSKT with $1.9 billion to settle damages and rehabilitate the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project
  • Provides $10 million in road infrastructure funds to Lake and Sanders Counties
  • Avoids litigation on over 10,000 claims in the state water court
  • Requires the Unitary Management Board to dual-file water records with Montana DNRC and requires all meetings and proceedings open to the public

Background:

  • Last week, Daines announced the framework of an agreement he’d reached with CSKT to settle the CSKT water dispute, and Senator Tester announced his support.
  • 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.
  • In 2016, Tester first introduced a CSKT water compact in the Senate.

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