Havre Daily News
Blackfeet tribal officials have told state water compact negotiators the tribe wants 50,000 acre-feet of water from the Milk River, including water that is diverted from the St. Mary River at facilities located on the reservation.
The tribe specified in its proposal that 10,000 acre-feet would be for Blackfeet use and the remaining 40,000 acre-feet would be marketed to downstream users.
“We are grateful to have a written proposal from the tribe, and we believe it is a resonable basis for future discussion,” state Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission attorney Jay Weiner said. “There are a lot of details that need to be ironed out and lots of permutations that need to be explored.”
Blackfeet tribal officials and the tribe's attorney could not be reached for comment.
The water compact talks are yet another developing factor in how much water will be available for Havre and other downstream users. Officials said the other factors could offset the effect of the Blackfeet's claim on downstream users.
The St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group is in the process of trying to convince the federal government to pay for the lion's share of costs to repair the aging St. Mary diversion, which augments the flow of the Milk River with water from the St. Mary River.
The International Joint Commission, a body that resolve water disputes between the United States and Canada, has formed a task force to study how water in the Milk River is being divided between the two countries and suggest solutions to ensure each country receives the amount of water it is supposed to.
State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation resource development bureau chief John Tubbs said the outcome of IJC negotiations could leave plenty of water for both the tribe and downriver irrigators and water users. Tubbs maintained that Montana has not received all of the water it was allocated in a 1921 IJC order.
“We haven't gotten our fair shake,” he said. “If the IJC process is successful, we can augment the supply, satisfy the Blackfeet's claim, and have more water for the basin.”
The completion of repairs at the St. Mary facilities also will give Montana more water to use in mitigating the Blackfeet claim, Tubbs said.
The proposal is the latest of many by the Blackfeet, who have been negotiating a water pact with the state for at least 15 years. Weiner said water compact negotiations are “an evolutionary process” and that the tribe's proposal is a positive step, he said.
“We're certainly encouraged by the direction we're heading, and we hope to have an agreement as soon as possible,” he said.
The Blackfeet and state negotiators have not yet discussed a possible tribal claim on the Marias River, Weiner said.
“Certainly, it's an issue they have in their eyes,” he said.
In a compact ratified by the state, the Fort Belknap tribes are allocated 645 cubic feet of water per second from the Milk River. The number represents the natural flow of the river. In addition, the tribe has the right to one-seventh of the storage in Fresno Reservoir.