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Montana Water Rights Protection Act heads to president's desk

Caroline Roesch sent this photo in.{ }{p}{/p}
Caroline Roesch sent this photo in.

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The U.S. Congress has included a tribal water compact in its year-end legislation, one that sets up a nearly $2 billion trust to settle damage claims and refurbish the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project in Montana. The Montana Water Rights Protection Act was attached on Monday to the roughly $1.4 trillion omnibus appropriations package that finalized a range of government spending and policy for the year. That bill also includes about $900 billion in pandemic relief funds. It passed in the House and Senate on Monday and has been sent to President Donald Trump for approval.

The Montana Water Rights Protection Act is now on its way to the president's desk for his signature.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill overnight, after previous passage in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A joint statement from Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines says the bill "will permanently settle the century long (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) water dispute, support Montana jobs, modernize rural infrastructure and protect the water rights of all Montanans."

According to a fact sheet attached to the senators' joint statement, the bill will include $1.9 billion to settle damages in regards to the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, along with hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate the irrigation project. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will relinquish 97 percent of their water rights claims in return, with the majority of the remaining claims to be co-owned with the state of Montana.

“I cannot express how much we appreciate the hard work that the Montana Congressional Delegation put into this bill and now having it signed into law," CSKT Tribal Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said in a statement. "From Senator Tester’s initial introduction of the bill four years ago, to Senator Daines’ introduction, amendments and work with the Trump Administration this year and to both of our Senators urging their respective leaders to include the bill in the omnibus appropriations bill, and to Congressman Gianforte’s work with the Minority Leader in the House, all played pivotal roles and the residents of Montana should be thankful for their efforts. We certainly are grateful. We also express our appreciation to the many agriculture and conservation groups across Montana and even across the country who also helped advocate for passage of this truly historic and important bill.”

Daines also weighed in on the passage with this statement: "After years of hard work, the U.S. Senate just passed our bipartisan bill that permanently resolves the century long CSKT water dispute, and will soon become law. Without our bill, thousands of Montanans would be forced into very expensive litigation and our ag economy would’ve taken over a one billion dollar hit. That’s why we’ve worked so hard to pass our bill that protects the water rights of all Montanans, saves taxpayer dollars, creates jobs, modernizes rural infrastructure projects, protects Montana agriculture and prevents very costly litigation. This is a win for all Montanans.”

Tester released this statement: "This victory has been decades in the making, and is a huge win for Montana taxpayers, ranchers, farmers, and the Tribes. Water is among our most valuable resources, and ratifying this Compact honors our trust responsibilities, creates jobs and invests in infrastructure while providing certainty to water users everywhere. I’m thankful we were able to work together to get this critical legislation across the finish line.”

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