The completion of the Blackfeet Compact and the passage of the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act were important milestones for our Tribe. The Compact and Settlement Act were approved by the membership in April 2017, and the Compact was signed by the Tribe, the State and United States in June 2018.
We still have several matters to complete to make the Compact and Settlement final. This report is intended to update the membership on where we are in this process.
Under the terms of the Compact and Settlement Act, there are several steps that must be taken before the Compact becomes final and enforceable. One of these steps is that the Compact must be entered as a decree by the Montana Water Court. The decree process was recently initiated by the Water Court with the issuance of the Compact as a Preliminary Decree on April 4, 2019.
Notice of the issuance of the Preliminary Decree will be provided to the public through publication in several newspapers throughout the area, including The Valierian. (See page 6 in this week’s issue.)
A separate notice of the Stipulation establishing the Tribe’s water rights in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and Glacier National Park will also be published. (The Stipulation establishes the Tribe’s water right in the National Forest and Glacier Park as an instream flow right to the entire natural flow of streams flowing onto the Reservation from the National Forest and Glacier Park, subject to small administrative uses of the Forest and the Park.) You will see the first notices in this paper.
The decree process will also include a process for objections to the Compact and the Stipulation. Objections must be filed by Oct. 1, 2019. Public meetings will also be held in Browning, Valier, Great Falls, Havre and Glasgow. The first public meeting will be in Browning on Tuesday, April 30 at 7 p.m. at Browning High School. Another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 1 at the Valier High School Gym in Valier at 7 p.m. These meetings will include representatives from the Water Court, the Tribe, the U.S. and the State. The objection and decree process will likely take at least through the end of 2020.
In addition to the decree process, there are several agreements that are necessary to implement various aspects of the settlement relating to the Lake Elwell (Tiber Dam) allocation, the St. Mary Canal water, right-of-way issues relating to the St. Mary facilities of the Milk River Project, identification of Existing Uses of the Tribal Water Right, and the Tribal Water Code. All of these matters are underway. Discussions with the Fort Belknap Indian Community have also begun regarding implementation of our respective water rights in the Milk River.
All funds for the Settlement must be appropriated by 2025, and the Tribe is working to make sure that funds are appropriated every year to meet that date. A portion of the funds are available for implementation activities relating to the settlement, including the activities described above, and beginning with fiscal year 2019, a portion of the funds are now available to the Tribe for authorized projects. In order to move forward with any projects, the Council is working to make sure that we have an adequate tribal structure in place and that a plan is developed for the settlement projects and activities. This will include a public process with tribal members.
Although the overall process of implementing the Compact and Settlement has taken more time than anticipated, it has given time for the Tribe to ensure that we have proper structure, plans and controls in place before any funds are spent. The Council welcomes any questions on this process.