Tester Introduces Historic Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact in U.S. Senate

Farmers, Ranchers, Landowners, Sportsmen, Small Businesses, and Tribal Leaders Praise Tester’s Leadership

(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester today introduced the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Water Compact in the United States Senate.

The CSKT Water Compact will ratify the water rights settlement between CSKT and the State of Montana, resolve CSKT’s water-related claims with the federal government, establish resources to update critical water infrastructure, and avoid costly litigation between CSKT and the federal government.

“The CSKT Water Compact will provide certainty for all water users, and boost economic development in northwest Montana,” Tester said. “This bill will prevent costly litigation and protect our state’s most valuable natural resource. I am proud to join the farmers and ranchers, landowners, small businesses, sportsmen, families, and tribal members who crafted this legislation.”

The CSKT Water Compact provides resources to upgrade and modernize the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, which supplies tribal members and non-tribal land-owners with water for irrigation. These irrigation investments will benefit tribal and non-tribal farmers for generations to come.

“As a good neighbor, we value working together,” said CSKT Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley. “This legislation provides for critical water infrastructure projects, along with wetlands and habitat restoration that will create over 6,330 jobs and an economic impact of $52.9 million per year-providing a major boost to the economy while enhancing the region’s landscape and ecosystem. This legislation also helps remedy some of the devastating impacts to our culture and children caused by failed federal policies relating to the water resources of the Tribes by supporting our cultural and educational programs.”

Additionally, the CSKT Water Compact establishes funds to expand agriculture development within the Flathead Reservation-including noxious weed control, livestock fencing, irrigation ditches and canal screens, and livestock barriers. The Compact also includes resources to upgrade drinking water and wastewater distribution and treatment facilities in northwest Montana.

“My husband’s family has farmed on the reservation for three generations and we know that with the compact our family can continue for generations to come. I am thankful that the tribe, the federal government and the state were able to sit down and negotiate an agreement that protects farmers and ranchers like us and also satisfied the needs of the tribe to protect their natural resources. It took many years and is critical not only to the economic viability of our valley but to the social fabric as we continue to live here as friends and neighbors,” said Susan Lake, farmer from Ronan.

The CSKT Water Compact will also:
• Establish the right for CSKT to develop and market any hydroelectric power generation projects within the Flathead Reservation
• Quantify CSKT’s allocation of water rights and usage for the Hungry Horse Reservoir
• Protect the water rights and allocation for existing on-reservation irrigation users
• Provide for water leasing allocations off of the Flathead Reservation
• Protect fishing habitats by establishing CSKT and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as co-owners for existing off-reservation basins
• Establish the Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance and Water Management Board to administer water rights on the Flathead Reservation

In 2015, after a decade of negotiations between CSKT, the State of Montana, and local landowners, the Montana legislature passed the bipartisan CSKT Water Compact.

Before being ratified, all tribal water rights compacts must pass the state legislature and both chambers of Congress.

Tester is currently sponsoring the Blackfeet Water Compact, which was recently passed by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

Tester also sponsored the Crow Water Compact, which was signed into law and ratified in 2010.

Farmers, ranchers, landowners, sportsmen, small business owners, and tribal leaders support the CSKT Water Compact and praised Tester today for his leadership:

“The passage of this compact through the Montana legislature demonstrated that when we work together to find solutions, we can tackle the most complex and contentious challenges and find ways to ensure that the voices of all parties are heard. The result is good public policy that provides certainty, protection, and opportunities for economic growth and job creation,” said Governor Bullock. “It’s now time for Congress to do the same.”

“Montana farmers need reliable access to water to put food on the table in their own home, and in homes across the country. The Montana Farmers Union wants to recognize Senator Tester’s leadership and his willingness to get the CSKT Compact across the finish line so family farms have the certainty they need to increase production and expand their operation,” said Alan Merrill, President of Montana Farmers Union.

“The CSKT Compact contains significant protections for ranchers and their historic water use both on and off the reservation. We would like to thank Senator Tester for his commitment to protecting water rights and moving the Compact forward through the legislative process,” said Errol Rice, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

“I believe that the introduction by Senator Tester of the proposed compact will prove to be an economic benefit to Lake County,” said Ann Brower, Presiding Officer of the Lake County Commission.

“Montana Trout Unlimited thanks Senator Tester for standing up for clean water and sportsmen across our state. We support the CSKT Compact because it represents Montana-made solutions that help protect streamflows for Montana’s $940 million-a-year angling economy while also preserving important senior water rights and traditional irrigation uses,” said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited,” said Bruce Farling, Executive Director of Montana Trout Unlimited.

The CSKT Water Compact is available HERE.