Tester introduces bill to finalize Crow water agreement

Legislation ratifies water rights compact, authorizes money for settlement

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Montana's two U.S. Senators have teamed up to introduce a major bill that will finalize a water rights agreement between the Crow Nation, the State of Montana and the U.S. government.

Senator Jon Tester, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced his 43-page Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act today.  Senator Max Baucus is an original cosponsor of the legislation.

The measure will ratify the Crow Water Rights Compact—an agreement between the tribe and the State of Montana signed in 1999.  It also authorizes a little more than $527 million in federal funding to pay for the historic agreement, which will lead to new infrastructure that will deliver clean, dependable water throughout the Crow Indian Reservation.

"Many hours of hard work went into this agreement and I'm grateful to both senators for doing this for the tribe," said Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne.  "Settling our water rights is important for future opportunity and economic prosperity for the Crow Nation."

Tester said the legislation is part of U.S. government's responsibility to the Crow Tribe, stemming from treaties that promised water rights on the Crow Indian Reservation.  Final passage of the settlement also means the Crow Tribe won't have to sue the State of Montana or the federal government for water rights.

The Crow Water Rights Settlement Act:

  • Clarifies that the Crow Tribe is entitled to the natural flow of the Bighorn River at 500,000 acre-feet per year.
  • Reserves for the tribe 300,000 acre-feet of water from Bighorn Lake.
  • Requires the Bureau of Reclamation to restore and improve the Crow Irrigation Project to deliver water to farmland throughout the reservation.
  • Requires the Bureau of Reclamation to design and build infrastructure to deliver clean, dependable water to communities, rural homes and businesses throughout the reservation.
  • Creates the Crow Settlement Fund to hold federal funding authorized by this bill.

"This is a common-sense measure that strikes an important balance on the Crow Reservation," Tester said.  "Now Max and I will work closely with our colleagues to get this legislation through Congress, and I look forward to working with other tribes that still need congressional action on their water compacts."

"Everyone has a right to clean, reliable water and Senator Tester and I are here today to make sure that right is upheld," said Baucus today on the Senate floor.  "This compact shows what working together can accomplish. The legislation will protect the Crow Tribe's water, create good-paying jobs, and ensure that the Crow people will continue to be a proud and prosperous people."

The Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2008 is S. 3355.  Now it will most likely go to the Indian Affairs Committee for consideration.

A copy of the legislation is available upon request.