The U.S. Senate authorized the Blackfeet Water Compact on Thursday as part of the Water Resources Development Act.
Now it must pass the U.S. House of Representatives before the year is out.
The compact, which has been put before the Senate on four different occasions since 2010, passed 95 to 3. Now it must pass the U.S. House of Representatives before the year is out.
Negotiations between the Blackfeet Tribe, local communities and state and federal governments began more than 30 years ago to establish water rights in and around the reservation. The compact will also help rehabilitate the Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project; give the tribe the ability to use, lease or exchange water on tribal land; and protect the rights of non-Indian water users and members of the Fort Belknap Indian Community.
Montana’s two U.S. Senators heralded the vote as a success for both the tribe and the state.
“Today marks a major milestone for the Blackfeet Tribe,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. “I will continue to work with folks to find the funding that is needed to get this compact across the finish line and ensure that families, communities, and farms and ranches on the Blackfeet Reservation have reliable access to clean water.”
“This is a good day for Montana and the Blackfeet Nation,” said Republican Sen. Steve Daines. “This long-overdue agreement will not only establish the tribe’s water rights, but will also facilitate real, tangible benefits for the Blackfeet and the surrounding communities.”
The Blackfeet Water Compact was first passed by the Montana Legislature in 2009 but it has languished in Congress ever since.