Zinke hails US House passage of Blackfeet Water Compact - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Zinke hails US House passage of Blackfeet Water Compact

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A water settlement more than three decades has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now on its way to the U.S. Senate for approval.

The Blackfeet Water Compact is a part of the House Water Infrastructure Improvements Act.

If the Blackfeet Water settlement clears the Senate, it would establish tribal water rights in all six drainages on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, giving the tribe more authority over the land, and includes upgrades for the Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project. 

Provisions in the bill also address the Flint water crisis, provide drought relief in California and across the West, address long-standing water settlement agreements for the benefit of taxpayers and Native Americans, and expand conservation, recreation, and management of water and other natural resources.

“I’m incredibly proud and humbled to deliver this victory for the Blackfeet Nation,” said Congressman Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “The Blackfeet are warriors and they have given up so much during this long process. Water is more than a drinking source to the Blackfeet, it’s their life source and we must respect and honor their culture and rights."

"What a truly historic day for the Blackfeet Nation and the entire state of Montana. Congressman Zinke has proven himself to be a true champion of the Blackfeet Nation, and thanks to his leadership in the House, we are closer than ever before to victory," said Chairman Harry Barnes of the Blackfeet Nation.

"The Blackfeet have waited long enough for the federal government to ratify the Tribe's water rights settlement, which confirms and protects the historic treaty water rights of the Tribe, and which will bring significant economic development and infrastructure benefits to the Tribe now and into the future," Barnes added in a statement. 

Among other provisions, the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act of 2016 would:

  • Establish the tribe's water rights in all six drainages within the reservation, including St. Mary River, Milk River, Cut Bank Creek, Two Medicine River, Badger Creek and Birch Creek.
  • Give the Blackfeet Tribe the ability to use, lease, contract, or exchange water on tribal land, and protect the tribe’s water rights from development by others.
  • Rehabilitate and upgrade the aging Four Horns Dam and the 100-year-old Blackfeet Irrigation Project.

The total price tag of the bill is $420 million. 

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