Tester Carries Critical Funding for Tribal Water Projects One Step Closer to the President’s Desk

Senate Indian Affairs Committee moves forward with Tester-backed bill funding water infrastructure projects in Indian Country

In his ongoing commitment to Tribal water rights, U.S. Senator Jon Tester worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass key legislation through the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that funds congressionally approved Indian water projects.

The Indian Water Rights Settlement Extension Act extends the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund—a pool of money that pays for certain water supply infrastructure projects in Indian Country—by ten years, helping to provide funding to Tribes with enacted water compacts. The extension would allow eligible Tribes to access a shared reserve of $120 million in mandatory funding each year for 10 additional years, providing $1.2 billion in total.

“Montana’s Tribes need Congress to uphold its trust responsibilities so they can develop and maintain their water resources,” Tester said. “We’ve got to ensure that settlements like Blackfeet are fully funded before their enforceability dates, and that future settlements like Fort Belknap and CSKT have the resources they need to be completed on time.”

Currently, the Fort Belknap Indian Community qualifies for priority water settlement funding as long as the final compact is signed into law by the end of this year. The Indian Water Rights Settlement Extension Act gives the Fort Belknap Indian Community an additional two years to pass their water compact before losing this priority status. The bill also provides certainty for the Blackfeet Tribe to receive its funding on time by providing the Bureau of Reclamation flexibility to ensure that Tribes are fully funded by their enforceability date.

Throughout his tenure on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester has fought tirelessly to pass Indian water compacts and infrastructure improvements through the Senate. He originally introduced the Blackfeet Water Settlement in 2010 and the CSKT Water Compact in 2016, he also sponsored the Crow Water Compact which was signed into law and ratified in 2010.

In his role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester has fought to provide funding for Tribal water projects across Montana. He helped secure more than $30 million for water projects in Indian Country last year—including $10 million for the Blackfeet Water Settlement—and he recently worked to pass legislation that would allow the Blackfeet Nation to put their water compact funding to work immediately, rather than having to wait for their enforceability date in 2025.