Great Falls Tribune: Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Settlement Act reintroduced in Congress

by Tribune Staff

Sen. Jon Tester on Thursday reintroduced the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act of 2021 in the Senate.

The settlement will ratify the Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) water compact with the State of Montana, establish resources for critical water infrastructure development, provide for tribal and non-Tribal irrigation rights, and return tribal lands to federal trust, according to a news release.

Specifically, the Act provides $683 million to improve infrastructure and economic development for the tribes. It will also restore tribal management of 58,553 acres of state and federal land and protect non-tribal irrigators on Peoples Creek.

“This Compact will prevent costly litigation and protect our most valuable resource, and I’m proud to join Tribal members, farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and women, and small businesses who have worked for decades to get this legislation signed into law,” said Tester, who first introduced the settlement in 2012.

After more than a decade of negotiations, the FBIC Tribal Council approved its Water Compact with the State of Montana in 2001. The Montana Legislature approved the compact later that spring.

“The Act settles more than 100 years of U.S. mismanagement of our waters, avoids costly litigation, and will provide certainty to water users on and off our reservation,” said FBIC President Andrew Werk Jr.

The FBIC tribal council urged Congress to “take quick action and pass this important legislation.”

“Water is a precious resource and sacred to our people. Passage of our Water Rights Settlement Act will help us move forward by protecting our water rights and investments in water infrastructure that will provide jobs and economic opportunities for generations,” the council said in a statement.