HCN: Crow Tribe prepares to vote on water rights settlement

"In December of 2010 President Obama put pen to paper to settle long-standing water rights negotiations for four western tribes, including the Crow Tribe of southern Montana. The settlement finalizes the 1999 Crow Tribe-Montana Water Compact, giving the tribe 500,000 acre feet of water from the Bighorn River and 300,000 acre feet of water stored in Bighorn Lake. The settlement also includes $460 million to build a water treatment plant, irrigation systems, a hydroelectric plant and other infrastructure. Crow tribal leaders held a party at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, to celebrate the settlement, and Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., lauded it as well.

The last step is for the tribe to vote on whether to ratify the settlement. Yet while the water- and infrastructure-rich deal appears to be a great step forward for the tribe, some members view the new water rights -- and the controls that come with them -- with skepticism.

Water fuels the largely agricultural reservation, and the Crows sorely need new infrastructure. The Crow Irrigation Project is dilapidated. Some tribal members have to haul their household water and store it in cisterns. Their water systems, currently run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, have been "badly managed for a century," says Heather Whiteman Runs Him, legal counsel for the tribe. The tribe will create permanent jobs to operate and maintain these systems once they are fixed."

Get the Story:
GOAT Blog: Crow Tribe to vote on water compact (High Country News 2/23)

Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2009:
H.R. 3563 | S.375

Related Stories:
Letter: Water rights settlement betrays needs of the Crow Tribe (1/28)
Landowners from Crow Tribe rally against water rights settlement (1/27)
Crow Tribe discusses water rights settlement in advance of vote (1/21)
Crow Tribe holds a series of meetings for water rights settlement (1/12)
Crow Tribe to celebrate settlement of water rights at NMAI in DC (12/10)
Claims Settlement Act authorizes $460M Crow water settlement (12/1)
Senate passes water rights settlements for tribes in three states (11/22)
Letter: Members of Crow Tribe should vote against water rights (10/6)
Crow Chairman: Water settlement in tribe's best interests (4/2)
Opinion: Water bill hurts landowners on Crow Reservation (3/29)
Crow Tribe's water rights settlement advances (9/11)
Crow Tribe near deal on water rights settlement (08/03)

Join the Conversation