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Dec 8, 2019   |  

MTN NEWS: Tester sees bipartisan support for Flathead Water settlement

By: Dennis Bragg, MTN News

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) believes bipartisan support might be the difference to finally resolving the years-long debate over tribal water rights in the Flathead Basin.

Tester made the comment reacting to news that Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) will introduce the Montana Water Rights Protection Act this week, a settlement likely worth more than 2-billion dollars.

Tester had made the first attempt to get the Flathead Water Compact approved in 2016, but the measure couldn't generate bipartisan support. Now, with movement on both sides of the aisle, Tester calls the latest development great news for Montana.

"Well look, I think this is really good news. It's good news for all of Montana, not just the tribes. The water users throughout the state. It's one of the reasons I introduced it back in 2016. I think the meat of this bill is basically the same," said Tester.

"There's been some tweaks to it, which is fine. Because water compacts are known to get changed as they go through the process. And I think now that this is a bipartisan bill it has a much greater chance of getting done."

In addition for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes surrendering 97% of their water right claims, the tribe will receive $1.9 billion in the settlement, hundreds of millions of dollars will be available for critical updates to the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, which will benefit all water users. Plus the settlement preserves the integrity of Montana's water courts to resolve disputes.

While it would seem to mean years of work on the original Compact are being shelved, Tester notes the settlement actually builds on that framework, so the efforts by all parties aren't going to waste.

"You've got to walk before you can run. That's absolutely correct. And we put it in knowing fully well that it would be messaged, and manipulated in the process through. That's what occurring as we speak and that's just part of the Legislative process. And it's absolutely normal," said Tester.

Tester is also confident Congress will be able to locate the money to execute the agreement with the Tribes. Daines is expected to introduce the Montana Water Rights Protection Act later this week.

Office Contact Information

Senator Tester's Montana staff serves the state from offices in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Please bring your concerns with federal agencies, academy nominations, and other situations to one of these Montana offices.


Judge Jameson Federal Building
2900 4th Ave N, Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: (406) 252-0550
Fax: (406) 252-7768


Avant Courier Building
1 E Main Street, Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715
Phone: (406) 586-4450
Fax: (406) 586-7647


Silver Bow Center
125 W Granite, Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: (406) 723-3277
Fax: (406) 782-4717

Great Falls

119 1st Avenue N, Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401
Phone: (406) 452-9585
Fax: (406) 452-9586


208 North Montana Avenue
Suite 104
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 449-5401
Fax: (406) 449-5462


8 Third Street E
Kalispell, MT 59901
Phone: (406) 257-3360
Fax: (406) 257-3974


130 W Front St.
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: (406) 728-3003
Fax: (406) 728-2193

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