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CSKT Water Compact clears key committee hurdle

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News from the Office of Senator Jon Tester 

MONTANA – U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s historic Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Water Compact cleared a key hurdle on July 29 as it passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. 

The bipartisan Montana Water Rights Protection Act passed on a voice vote with bipartisan support and now awaits consideration before the entire Senate. “Today marked another big step forward for the CSKT Water Compact and brings us even closer to providing the surety that water users in Montana desperately need,” Tester said. 

He continued: “This settlement has overwhelming support from all across the state and both sides of the aisle and will prevent years of costly litigation while protecting our state’s most valuable resource. I urge Senator McConnell to put the Montana Water Rights Protection Act up for a vote as quickly as possible, so we can pass this historic legislation and give Montana water users certainty for generations to come.”

CSKT Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said: “We are grateful for Senator Tester’s leadership and hard work in getting us to this moment in time. This legislation shows what can happen when we all work together. It will provide critical water infrastructure projects, create jobs, restore our fisheries and water quality, grow the economy, and enhance the reservation’s natural landscape and ecosystem. We are grateful to Senator Tester for his years of hard work earning support among his colleagues for the Tribe’s Water Compact, and we look forward to finally seeing this important bill signed into law.”

The CSKT Water Compact will ratify the water rights settlement between CSKT and the State of Montana, resolve CSKT’s water-related claims with the federal government, establish resources to update critical water infrastructure and avoid costly litigation. Tester first introduced his Salish and Kootenai Water Rights Settlement Act in 2016 and welcomed newfound support for the compact from his colleagues across the aisle last fall.

Tester has been a steadfast champion for tribes and Montana water users. As a former chairman and long-time member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester originally sponsored the Blackfeet Water Compact in 2010 and guided it to the president’s desk to be signed into law in 2016. He also sponsored the Crow Water Compact, which was signed into law and ratified in 2010.

Before being implemented, tribal water rights compacts must pass the state legislature and both chambers of Congress, and be approved by the tribe and Montana water court. In 2015, after a decade of negotiations between CSKT, the State of Montana, and local landowners, the Montana legislature passed the bipartisan CSKT Water Compact. The Compact is supported by tribes, landowners, farmers, ranchers, small businesses, sportsmen and the Montana Legislature.

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