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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Interior Balks At Cost Of CSKT Water Compact

CSKT Chairman Vernon Finley urged the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to accept the compact.
U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee
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CSKT Chairman Vernon Finley urged the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to accept the compact.

At the first U.S. Senate hearing for the water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes today, federal officials said it looks expensive, and needs more analysis. Tribal leaders testified as well.

The water compact narrowly passed in Montana’s last legislative session and now it must be affirmed by the U.S. Congress.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester introduced the water rights settlement act in the Senate last month.

On Wednesday, Alletta Belin of the U.S. Department of the Interior told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the Tribes and the State of Montana did good work in the settlement of the water rights claims. But she said the Interior Department cannot support the bill as introduced.

"The department has significant concerns about the federal costs of the settlement, which total approximately $2.3 billion. And we have not yet completed a full and robust analysis and discussion and all aspects and ramifications of this substantial settlement."

CSKT Chairman Vernon Finley urged the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to accept the compact.

"This bill, and the past 12 years of negotiations was a culmination of the State of Montana, the people in Montana, the Tribes, to sit down and negotiate and to come to an agreement about what is the best use and the best way in order to resolve all of our water responsibilities. So I strongly urge the committee and the Senate to approve this legislation."

The language of the bill will continue to be negotiated between the tribes, the Interior Department and local state interests.

As that happens, the CSKT Water compact passed by the state legislature is being challenged in a District Court in Polson. The irrigators group known as the Flathead Joint Board of Control alleges the compact didn’t receive enough votes to become law.

Corin Cates-Carney is the news director at Montana Public Radio. He joined MTPR in 2015 and is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.
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