Among its final actions before the 114th Congress closed session, the U.S. Senate followed the lead of Montana lawmakers Steve Daines and Jon Tester and passed the long-awaited Blackfeet Water Compact.
The water settlement 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 U.S. Senate passed the bill on Dec. 10. President Obama is expected to sign it into law at the end of the month.
“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.”
Tester stated, “Today folks on both sides of the aisles were able to put politics aside and do what is right for the Blackfeet Tribe. This Compact will help create jobs and strengthen infrastructure in northwest Montana. We have more work to do to secure the funding that goes along with this critical settlement, but I will continue to roll up my sleeves and build the support needed to do right by the Blackfeet Nation.”
The settlement will rehabilitate the Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project and make other improvements on the Blackfeet Reservation. It also includes provisions that protect off-reservation farmers and ranchers that rely upon the water for irrigation purposes. 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.
Negotiations on the agreement began more than 30 years ago. It was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2009.
Montana U.S. Rep Ryan Zinke, a Republican from Whitefish, helped lead the compact’s push through the House of Representatives.
“The Blackfeet are warriors and they have given up so much during this long process,” Zinke stated.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.”