Tester, Daines Led Fort Belknap Water Compact Passes Senate

Final Indian Water Rights Settlement in Montana one step closer to President’s Desk

Today, after decades of collaborative work to pass the final Indian Water Rights Water Settlement in Montana, the Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) Water Settlement led by U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines passed out of the United States Senate as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) unanimously.

The FBIC Water Settlement will ratify the FBIC Water Rights Compact with the State of Montana, provide resources for critical water infrastructure development like the completion of the Milk River Project, give certainty to both Tribal and non-Tribal irrigators and restore FBIC lands to federal trust ensuring their preservation for years to come.

“As a third generation Montana farmer, I can tell you firsthand that water is critical to the success of everyone from farmers and ranchers, to families and small businesses,” said Tester. “After decades of work with the Fort Belknap Indian Community, ag producers, and a wide array of Montana stakeholders, we are one step closer to giving water users in northcentral Montana the certainty they need to thrive. Today’s strong bipartisan vote on Montana’s final Indian Water Rights Settlement is great news for the FBIC, and great news for folks all across the Treasure State.”

“The Fort Belknap Water Rights Settlement is the last Indian water rights settlement in Montana and I worked hard to get it included in the must-pass defense authorization bill. This critical bill codifies existing water rights, prevents costly litigation, provides clean drinking water and invests in irrigation for farmers and ranchers who provide food for the whole country. It’s supported by our governor, the Fort Belknap Community, all locally affected counties and our farmers and ranchers. It is a win-win-win for Montana and I am grateful it passed,” Daines said.

The Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act will provide $1.3 billion to improve infrastructure and economic development for the FBIC and improve the efficiency of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Milk River Project, which furnishes water for the irrigation of about 121,000 acres of Tribal and non-Tribal land. The bill will also restore Tribal management to 38,462 acres of state and federal land for the FBIC.

After more than a decade of negotiations, the FBIC Tribal Council approved its Water Compact with the State of Montana in 2001. The Montana Legislature approved the Compact later that spring. FBIC and Montana’s Senators worked to bring together partners to advance this critical settlement.

Supporters of the bipartisan bill include:

  • Blaine County Conservation District
  • Hill County 
  • Phillips County
  • Valley County
  • St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group
  • Milk River Joint Board of Control
  • Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council
  • The Wilderness Society
  • Montana Farmers Union
  • Bear Paw Development Corporation
  • Blaine County
  • Montana Farm Bureau
  • Montana Stockgrowers Association
  • Wild Montana

Letters of support for the bipartisan bill can be found below:


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