Great Falls Tribune: Bill would settle Blackfeet water rights

Sen Max Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana introduced legislation Thursday in the U.S. Sentate to turn an historic water rights settlement for the Blackfeet Indian Tribe into law.

The settlement would resolve all claims to water rights on the reservation and ensure clean water for the northern Montana reservation as well as farms, ranches, and businesses in the surrounding communities, the senators said in a statement. The settlement proposes a $591 million federal appropriation to the Blackfeet Tribe to develop its water rights.

The bill would appropriate $591 million to the tribe to develop water infrastructure on the reservation such as irrigation and water storage systems, but that figure is subject to change.

“It’s a really milestone for the tribe,” said Jeanne Whitening, the tribe’s water rights attorney.

Negotiations between the Blackfeet Tribe, local communities, and the state and federal governments began in the 1980s to establish water rights in and around the Blackfeet Reservation. A formal agreement was finally included in the Montana Legislature’s 2009 Blackfeet Water Compact.

Baucus and Tester introduced a bill Thursday to make the settlement federal law and permanently resolve the long-standing disputes.

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