Tester: Bill will protect Montana watersheds, fishing habitat for generations

In April, Montanans get used to sunny weather one day and snow the next.  Farmers start spring planting—if the conditions are right.  And on Earth Day, we take inventory of what we still have to do to make sure the world our kids and grandkids inherit is better than the world we inherited.

This Earth Day, we’re reminded of how important it is to work together to keep Montana’s water clean and our places to fish among the best in the world.  In the West, there are few things more important than access to clean water for drinking, irrigation, fishing and recreation.

That’s why I included a bipartisan measure in the recent Public Lands Bill called the Cooperative Watershed Management Act that encourages Montanans to work together to protect our water habitat for generations to come.  President Obama signed the Cooperative Watershed Management Act into law on March 30.

I worked with Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho to write the Cooperative Watershed Management Act.  I reached across the aisle because protecting our watersheds isn’t a Republican or a Democratic value.  It’s a western value.  Water is life.

In a nutshell, our legislation offers grants to small groups of people who agree to work with each other to manage our water resources.  The bill authorizes $2 million in grants for these local groups this year, up to $5 million next year, and as much as $20 million beginning in 2012.

The idea is to get farmers, ranchers, fishermen, scientists, conservation districts and outdoorsmen to sit down at the table together to agree on the best way to manage the streams and rivers they rely on.

Managing our precious water habitat requires decisions that ought to be made, working together, at the grassroots level.  Opening the lines of communication, the local folks will hammer out compromises that work for everyone.

In Montana, we know working together is the best way to make decisions about our natural resources.  The Cooperative Watershed Management Act simply provides the resources needed to allow local folks to make decisions for themselves—as long as we work together.

Of course, we still have a lot of challenges ahead of us to manage our resources and preserve them for future generations.  Passing the Cooperative Watershed Management Act is a step in the right direction.  Now it’s up to Montanans to put the law to work.


U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., is a third generation farmer from Big Sandy and a member of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee.