Tester: Water compacts are vital for tribes, neighboring communities

Senator’s bill provides critical investments for tribal water infrastructure

(U.S. Senate)– In a Senate hearing, Senator Jon Tester pushed to get three Montana tribal water compacts ratified and funded.

During a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing, Vice-Chairman Tester highlighted how vital these water compacts are for the health, safety, and the economy of tribal and non-tribal communities. Tester discussed his bill, the Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act, that invests $35 million annually for 20 years to help pay for projects associated with tribal water compacts.

“Water rights are vital to tribal and non-tribal communities,” Tester said after the hearing. “Investing in rural water systems provides clean and reliable water to homes, schools, farms, and businesses, both on and off tribal lands. My bill ensures we pay for the construction of these projects that benefit families in Indian Country.”

The Blackfeet, Fort Belknap, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compacts have passed the Montana Legislature with bipartisan support and have been signed into state law by the governor, but still need action from Congress or Interior Department to become ratified.

Tester’s bill will not add to the federal debt and uses the Reclamation Fund to pay for the construction and upgrades of these water projects.

Tribal water compacts are put together over decades of negotiations between tribes, private landowners, and the State of Montana.

Senator Steve Daines is a cosponsor of The Authorized Rural Waters Projects Completion Act.