U.S. House Approves Blackfeet Water Settlement

The bill proposes to rehabilitate the Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project

By Associated Press & Beacon Staff
Farm land north of Browning on Thursday, May 29, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The U.S. House has approved a water rights settlement with the Blackfeet American Indian tribe as part of a broader bill addressing water projects across the nation.

Thursday’s passage sends the measure back to the Senate. The Blackfeet Water Compact was included in the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation Act, a water resources agreement that also includes legislation to address the Flint water crisis, provide drought relief in California and across the West.

The bill proposes to rehabilitate the Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project and make other improvements on the Blackfeet tribe’s northwestern Montana reservation. It has a $420 million price tag. However, money for the settlement was not included in the bill and will have to be addressed separately.

“I’m incredibly proud and humbled to deliver this victory for the Blackfeet Nation,” said Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, a Republican from Whitefish. “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 (Harry) Barnes through this process. It is my hope that Senators Daines and Tester will be able to talk some sense into Senate Democrats who have promised to block the bill. The Blackfeet have waited long enough for this compact. It would be a shame for it to die in the final stage because of a disagreement between two Democratic senators.”

Negotiations on the agreement began more than 30 years ago. It was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2009.

Prior attempts failed to advance the settlement through Congress. The administration of President Barack Obama objected to its original price tag of $591 million.

“What a truly historic day for the Blackfeet Nation and the entire state of Montana. Congressman Zinke has proven himself to be a true champion of the Blackfeet Nation, and thanks to his leadership in the House, we are closer than ever before to victory,” said Chairman Harry Barnes of the Blackfeet Nation. “The Blackfeet have waited long enough for the federal government to ratify the Tribe’s water rights settlement, which confirms and protects the historic treaty water rights of the Tribe, and which will bring significant economic development and infrastructure benefits to the Tribe now and into the future. I encourage the Senate to pass the bill as expeditiously as possible so that the Tribe’s decades long battle for its water rights can finally be brought to closure.”

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