Montana Public Radio

27 Republican Lawmakers Call For Local Hearing On Federal CSKT Water Settlement Bill

Jul 2, 2020

A group of 27 state Republican legislators are asking federal lawmakers to hold a hearing on the federal Montana Water Rights Protection Act in Kalispell. The group includes prominent opponents to the legislation.

If passed, the bill would be the largest water-rights settlement agreement in history between the U.S. Government and a federally recognized tribe. The Montana Water Rights Protection Act would settle a decades-long dispute over thousands of water-rights claims filed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Supporters of the bill say it will prevent years of costly litigation in the state water court. It would also provide the tribes with $1.9 billion to revitalize an irrigation project on the reservation in exchange for dropping a majority of their claims.

In a Tuesday letter to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, a group of state Republican lawmakers asked the committee to hold a field hearing in Kalispell. House Majority Leader Brad Tschida, Senate Majority Whip Cary Smith and President Pro Tempore Mark Blasdel all signed onto the letter, claiming that the legislation would negatively impact area residents.

Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines introduced this latest piece of legislation seeking to ratify an agreement outlined in the CSKT water compact, which the state Legislature voted in support of in 2015.

In a statement emailed to MTPR, Daines said, “there has been an abundance of public input on this issue over the past two decades, including personal input from the vast majority of those who signed this letter.”

The federal bill is backed by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who has proposed similar legislation in the past. The public is able to submit testimony on the bill until July 8.