News & Features

Water Rights Bill to Include $1.9 Billion for Montana Tribes

Bill would help settle a long-awaited water rights deal with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

MISSOULA — Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said he plans to introduce legislation help to settle a long-awaited water rights deal with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The bill would quantify the tribes’ water rights on and off the reservation and pay $1.9 billion to settle their claims and rehabilitate the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. It also would provide Lake and Sanders counties with $10 million for road infrastructure.

State lawmakers ratified a CSKT water compact in 2015 to settle and avoid water-rights disputes and litigation between tribal and non-tribal users, but it still must be ratified by the federal and tribal governments.

Daines, a Republican, on Thursday called his legislation a “framework for a permanent water settlement” and said it’s critical to get the compact introduced introduced in Congress.

He said his bill would “permanently eliminate almost all of CSKT’s water claim rights across Montana … save taxpayers over $400 million, and give all water users across Montana protection and certainty.”

The proposed legislation has the backing of the tribes, the Missoulian reported.

“This will work and get the job done,” said CSKT Chairman Ronald Trahan in a statement provided by spokesperson Rob McDonald. “This bill will ensure the protection of vital resources while seeing to the needs of the greater community.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester plans to be a cosponsor of the bill, according to his office.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Attorney General William Barr recently voiced support for the water compact.

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, said Daines’ framework is a positive step forward, but that the compact passed by state lawmakers in 2015 has problems that must be addressed in any settlement.