A decades-old dispute over water rights on Montana’s largest Indian Reservation has come to a close. Officials from the Department of Interior, the State of Montana and the Crow tribe signed the Crow Water Compact Friday. The compact approves spending over $460 million in federal money for water infrastructure projects on the tribe’s expansive reservation.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, and Crow Chairman Cedric Black Eagle sat at a table at Interior headquarters passing around three copies of the Compact for them each to sign.
“Water is life among our people,” Black Eagle said, wearing a traditional headdress. “This compact ensures that Crow people will have water and the necessary infrastructure for generations to come.”
The Crow Tribe has been in litigation with the Federal Government for over 30 years, claiming the tribe wasn’t being given adequate water resources. Interior Secretary Salazar says the ceremony begins implementing the Crow Water Rights Settlement Act signed by President Obama at the end of 2010.
“It does show how when we work together we can make very significant progress in fulfilling broken promises,” Salazar said.
The tribe gains new water rights on Big Horn Lake and the Big Horn River. Salazar says the Bureau of Reclamation will spend the over $460 million dollars to design and build a comprehensive water system for the tribe.
“The existing drinking water system has had such significant deficiencies in terms of capacity and water quality that many tribal members at times must haul water,” Salazar said.
The new system will overhaul drinking water infrastructure and upgrade the tribe’s dilapidated irrigation project. Salazar says its construction will also provide much-needed jobs for the Crow.
“Today is a good day for the American people, it’s a good day for the Crow people and it’s a good day Montana,” Governor Brian Schweitzer said.
By signing the compact, the Crow Tribe waives any legal claims against the Federal Government for being denied water resources in the past.