Water Compact: Chronology

The Blackfeet Nation has been working to resolve its water rights for more than 30 years. This chronology highlights the major events and milestones leading up to the current negotiated settlement.

1970s

  • U.S. files federal court water rights cases for all Montana tribes
  • State of Montana files a competing water rights adjudication in state court
  • U.S. and tribes challenge Montana’s jurisdiction over Indian water rights

1980s

  • U.S. Supreme Court decides in 1984 that the State of Montana has the right to determine Indian water rights in state court
  • Blackfeet continues to challenge state court jurisdiction
  • Federal court decides in 1986 that state court has jurisdiction to decide Blackfeet water rights
  • Tribe initiates water rights negotiations with the Montana Reserved Water Right Compact Commission

1990s

  • Negotiations falter and state files a motion to begin litigation of Blackfeet water rights
  • Negotiations begin again in 1992; Montana Water Court issues a stay of litigation
  • Numerous public negotiation meetings and technical meetings between the Blackfeet Nation and State of Montana are held

2000s

  • Montana Water Court issues annual stays of litigation while negotiations proceed
  • A water compact is completed in 2007
  • Blackfeet Tribal Business Council authorizes water compact for approvals by the State of Montana, the Congress and by Tribal member vote
  • Montana Legislature ratifies the compact in 2009
  • Water settlement legislation is introduced in 2010 to ratify the compact and to provide funding for water projects and other purposes
  • Water settlement legislation is reintroduced in 2011, 2013 and 2015
  • Testimony in support of the settlement bills is provided before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2010, 2011 and 2013; the U.S. testifies in opposition to the amount of federal funding and other issues
  • Negotiations with the Department of the Interior to reach agreement on funding and other issues proceed through this period

2016

  • The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement is reported out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee; the first settlement in five years to move forward in Congress
  • United States Congress approves the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act
  • President Obama signs the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act into law