Skip to Content

Press Releases

Rep. Rosendale Introduces House Companion of Sen. Daines and Sen Tester Fort Belknap Water Settlement Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Recently, Congressman Matt Rosendale (MT-02) introduced H.R. 5088 to provide for the settlement of the water rights claims of the Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC). The FBIC Water Settlement will ratify the FBIC Water Rights Compact between the community and the State of Montana and allow for the development of critical water infrastructure programs such as the Milk River Project. This bill is the House companion to legislation introduced by Senators Tester and Daines of Montana, which passed the Senate on July 27th as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

“After years of discussion and careful negotiation, I’m glad to see the Fort Belknap Indian Community, local farmers, and the State of Montana come to an agreement that will benefit everyone,” said Rep. Rosendale. “I am proud to introduce the bill that will finalize this agreement and settle the issue of water rights in northcentral Montana.”

“The Fort Belknap Water Rights Settlement is the last Indian water rights settlement in Montana and after years of effort and good faith negotiation, it’s one step closer to becoming law,” Sen. Daines said. “I am grateful to Montana Tribes and communities, our farmers and ranchers, local leaders and diverse water users in the region for their input during this process that helped us arrive at a solution that will provide certainty, much-needed infrastructure improvements and protection of the rights of all water users in northcentral Montana. It is a win-win-win for Montana and I look forward to it passing the House and heading to the President’s desk.”

“As a third generation Montana farmer, I can tell you firsthand that water is critical to the success of everyone from farmers and ranchers, to families and small businesses,” said Sen. Tester. “After years of work with the Fort Belknap Indian Community, ag producers, and a wide array of Montana stakeholders, we are one step closer to giving water users in northcentral Montana the certainty they need to thrive. This is a made-in-Montana solution, and I’m looking forward to getting this long overdue settlement across the finish line.”

“We are grateful for Congressman Matt Rosendale’s support for our water settlement bill,” said Fort Belknap Indian Community President Jeffrey Stiffarm. “More than 100 years ago, in 1908, the Fort Belknap Indian Community went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect our water rights. That case is known as the Winter’s Doctrine and our battle ensured that Indian tribes across the United States would have the water they needed for their communities. Since then, we chose negotiation and compromise over litigation. In 2001 the Montana State Legislature passed our Water Compact with an overwhelming majority and strong bipartisan support. More than 20 years later, we have now negotiated legislation that will settle our claims against the United States and affirm the water rights set out in the Compact. Our water rights settlement bill is an infrastructure and jobs bill. Our bill will invest in long overdue maintenance and upgrades for water infrastructure on our Reservation and across the Hi-Line. Our bill ensures that existing water uses can continue while providing water to our Reservation communities and promoting agriculture and economic development.”

“Agriculture is Blaine County’s number one industry and the inclusion of the rehabilitation of the St. Mary’s diversion project and the settling of water rights questions is a good thing for the citizens of our County,” said Blaine County Commission Chairman Miles Hutton.

In 2001, the FBIC approved its Water Compact with the State of Montana, and the state legislature approved it later that spring. The FBIC and Montana’s congressional delegation have worked for years to finalize the agreement and pass the Compact through Congress. This bill will finish the process of Congressional approval and bring us one step closer to finalizing this agreement.