While the text of the forthcoming Montana Water Rights Protection Act is not yet available, Daines said the bill will save taxpayers $400 million over a previous proposal brought in 2016 by Sen. Jon Tester. That measure contained $2.3 billion for damages and restoration. Daines did not support that bill, and it died in the Republican-controlled Senate. Daines said he hopes to get bipartisan support for his new proposal. “I’m hoping Sen. Tester will support it. We’ll be talking to his folks next week,” Daines said. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Tester signaled initial support for the proposal. “Today’s deal is long-overdue good news for tribes, farmers, ranchers, and Montana taxpayers,” Tester said. “I’m glad we’re all now on the same page about the importance of getting this done, but the clock is ticking on our ability to prevent costly litigation and protect our state’s most valuable resource. It’s critical we get the CSKT Compact introduced and moving so we can provide certainty for all water users and boost economic development in Northwest Montana.”
President Trump’s administration is backing the CSKT water compact and there is bipartisan support from Montana’s congressional delegation, so it’s time to get this done. Congress needs to ratify the compact as soon as possible. https://t.co/T2YiY3Hg3I #mtnews— Tim Fox (@AGTimFox) December 5, 2019
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox also issued a statement in support of the settlement agreement. “President Trump’s administration is backing the CSKT water compact and there is bipartisan support from Montana’s congressional delegation, so it’s time to get this done,” Fox said in a statement. “I am grateful to Senators Daines and Tester for their support of the compact passed by the 2015 Montana Legislature. I call upon Congress to ratify it as soon as possible.” Fox, a Republican running for governor in 2020, opposed the CSKT compact in 2013, but backed its passage in 2015. “I did not support the compact as written in 2013 because it did not provide sufficient protections and certainty for water rights holders,” Fox added. “My staff and I worked with all parties to bring key changes, and as a result, in 2015 the compact passed with bipartisan support.” interview on the Montana Lowdown podcast, Olszewski warned that Daines’ support for the compact settlement could cost him votes at the ballot box. “We’re going to tell Sen. Daines we’re unhappy, but how he’s going to find out is whether they vote for him or not in a general election,” Olszewski said. Olszewski, who was campaigning at the Montana Grain Growers Association’s annual convention in Great Falls on Thursday, softened his message after seeing a press release from Daines’ office. “I guess my gut feeling right now: it sounds optimistic, but I remain cautious,” Olszewski said in a phone interview. “Now we should be able to read the details in an actual version of this act and then we can go into the details and then start praising or criticizing the details.” Recent negotiations over the federal settlement got a boost last month when U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, in a November 18 letter to Daines, dismissed the concerns of the settlement’s opponents, stating that those concerns had been addressed during the lengthy negotiating process.
Then, during a November 22 visit to Montana, Attorney General William Barr said it was better to resolve Montana’s last remaining Indian water rights settlement through the existing negotiating process, and not in the courts. State Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, an outspoken opponent of the CSKT-Montana compact in the state Legislature, said he is optimistic about Daines’ proposed bill. “I haven’t seen the specific legislation, but I’m very encouraged with what Sen. Daines has been able to accomplish with further negotiations with the tribes,” White said Thursday. White said he is especially pleased with provisions that would require the tribes to relinquish off-reservation water rights and allow for future disputes to be handled in state district courts rather than federal courts. “All of these points I’ve seen through these negotiations, I’m just very encouraged and impressed with Sen. Daines and his efforts to resolve this very divisive issue,” White said.
AG Barr visits @skcollege and #CSKT Tribal Council in Montana today with @USAO_MT US Attorney Kurt Alme and OTJ Director Tracy Toulou to meet tribal leaders, discuss missing and murdered indigenous persons and DOJ’s strategy to address the issue. pic.twitter.com/EFsOvRwjTX— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) November 22, 2019
John S. Adams is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered Montana politics, government, and people for more than a decade. Prior to founding the Montana Free Press Adams was the statehouse bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and a correspondent for USA Today.
Note: This story originally appeared on Montana Free Press. It is published under a Creative Commons license.