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Tribal Water Compact Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate

The Flathead River is part of the watershed covered by the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe's water compact.(skeeze/pixabay)
The Flathead River is part of the watershed covered by the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe's water compact.(skeeze/pixabay)
May 27, 2016

FLATHEAD INDIAN RESERVATION, Mont. -- The water compact between the state of Montana and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes moved one step closer to reality on Thursday as U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced a bill to ratify the agreement.

If passed by Congress, it would resolve the tribes' longtime water-rights claims against the federal government, avoiding the threat of extended and costly litigation. Tester, D-Mont., said it also would obligate the feds to spend $2.3 billion and the state $55 million to take steps to make precious water supplies go further.

"It establishes noxious weed control, livestock fencing and irrigation ditches for local farmers and ranchers," Tester said, "and it makes critical investments in local drinking and wastewater infrastructure."

Opponents of the compact have said it gives too much power to the federal government and the tribes at the expense of private landowners and the state. Tribal chairman Vernon Finley disagreed, saying the hard-fought compact will provide the certainty necessary for everyone to move forward.

"The tribe has compromised an awful lot considering, according to the water laws, how much reach our water claim could be," he said. "What is really critical is that it's a resolution that was developed among Montanans, among neighbors, that has taken many years to develop."

The compact already is the subject of a lawsuit challenging parts of the deal, he said, because it failed to get a two-thirds majority in the Montana Legislature. Opponents say that could open the state up to significant liability.

The legislation is online at tester.senate.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT