Daily Montanan: Fort Belknap water compact will head to the U.S. Senate floor

by Aislin Tweedy

Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Act sponsored and supported by both Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and will head to the Senate floor.

Fort Belknap is the last tribal community to have a water compact in Montana. 

The settlement would provide infrastructure for clean drinking water and irrigation to the Fort Belknap and complete the rehabilitation of the Milk River Project in order to provide water across North Central Montana. 

“As a third-generation Montana farmer, I know firsthand just how important water is to every community in the Treasure state,” said Tester. “After decades of hard work from the tribe, state legislators, and local agencies– this bill will finally certainly benefit water users in north central Montana. Today’s vote is a huge step forward for folks that rely on water for their crops, communities, and small businesses, and together we’re going to get it across the finish line.” 

The FBIC settlement act will provide $1.3 billion to improve infrastructure and economic development to improve the efficiency of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation of Milk River Project. It will furnish water for irrigation of about 121,000  acres of tribal and non-tribal land, and the bill will also restore tribal management to 38,462 acres of state and federal land for FBIC. 

The bipartisan bill is supported by the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, and conservation groups across the state. The water rights settlement is also supported by local irrigators.

The FBIC Tribal Council approved its water compact with the State of Montana in 2001 after decades of negotiations. The Montana Legislature approved of the compact in 2001 as well.

The compact and settlement must now pass through Congress, and be approved by a majority vote of FBIC members, and the compact must be submitted to the Montana Water Court as a final decree. 

Supporters of the Bipartisan Bill:  

  • Blaine County Conservation District
  • Hill County 
  • Phillips County
  • Valley County
  • St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group
  • Milk River Joint Board of Control
  • Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council
  • The Wilderness Society
  • Montana Farmers Union
  • Bear Paw Development Corporation
  • Blaine County
  • Montana Farm Bureau
  • Montana Stockgrowers Association
  • State Representative Paul Tuss