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CSKT Water Rights Bill Gets First Hearing In Congress

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact narrowly passed the state Legislature in 2015 after more than a decade of negotiation. It settles water rights in and around the Flathead Reservation.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact narrowly passed the state Legislature in 2015 after more than a decade of negotiation. It settles water rights in and around the Flathead Reservation.

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee held its first hearing Wednesday on the Montana Water Rights Protection Act. The legislation would settle long-disputed water rights claims of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The bill would prevent costly litigation over thousands of water rights claims filed by the tribes, and would fund the rehabilitation of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines spent much of his time during the hearing asking U.S. Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Tim Petty about whether the department supported the bill. Petty said the department supports the bill over costly litigation, but did note some issues with oversight.

“While the department has concerns with S. 3019 as introduced — principally that the bill lacks necessary assurances that settlement funds will be spent and sent to sufficiently rehabilitate and modernize the system and project — we have worked diligently with the tribes to address these concerns,” he explained.

In the hearing, Daines mentioned plans to amend the bill to address the oversight concerns. Daines is sponsoring the legislation and Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is co-sponsoring it. Both Tester and Daines sit on the Indian Affairs Committee.

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