Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe
In an historic announcement this week, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland announced that her department was fulfilling the federal government’s obligation to fund Indian water settlements including $1 billion in funding for the CSKT water rights Compact. The Compact was ratified by Congress in the Montana Water Rights Protection Act, which was sponsored by Senator Steve Daines and co-sponsored by Senator Jon Tester. The bill was enacted at the end of 2020 and signed into law by then-President Donald Trump.
“This announcement is historic, not just for the CSKT water compact but for Indian water rights settlements across the West,” said CSKT Chairman Tom McDonald.
Most enacted Indian water settlements have had to wait for years or decades for Congress to slowly appropriate funding. A growing backlog in funding for authorized water settlements had been building for decades, threatening the delay of important settlement implementation activities, and making future water settlement authorizations more and more difficult. And because of inflation, the more time it takes Congress to fund a settlement, the more it ultimately costs.
The Secretary’s announcement this week provides an additional layer of certainty for thousands of water users across the State of Montana, eliminating the waiting game faced by previous water settlements. What this announcement means is that CSKT will now be able to efficiently and effectively implement the Compact, restore damages caused by the United States to Tribal lands and resources, and provide economic stability to the region by strengthening irrigated agriculture and repairing failing water systems.
McDonald emphasized, “With full funding secured for the Crow, Blackfeet, and CSKT settlements, as well as the elimination of a major hurdle in the ultimate passage of the Fort Belknap compact, this is a big win for Montana. We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Tester in securing this funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation and Secretary Haaland’s efforts to swiftly allocate funds amongst existing water settlements. This week’s announcement amplifies the commitment and hard work of Montana’s leaders like Senator Tester, Senator Daines, Governor Gianforte, Governor Bullock, and Attorney General Fox, to name a few.”