By Alan Sorensen
The Chippewa Cree Tribes reserved water rights compact with the State of Montana has finally received a go-ahead from the U.S. House of Representatives.
The compact already has the approval of the state Legislature and Governor Racicot, but still requires approval by the U.S. Senate and the president. After that, it must go before the Montana Water Court for clarification and final approval.
I guess the good word is we got one leg of the legislation through, Tribal Water Resource Director Jim Morsette said this morning. Its one step , one small step.
I want to thank Rep. Rick Hill for his work in getting this passed.
Hill, R-Mont., is the lone Montanan in the House of Representatives and was a sponsor of the bill.
Morsette said the Senate bill has two amendments that will require subsequent passage by the House, too.
Were hoping Sen. Burns gets this legislation through, and thats what were waiting on, Morsette. We then have to go back to the House to have these amendments passed into the House side.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., have supported Senate Bill 438 in favor of the compact agreement from the outset.
After getting final approval from Congress, the bill will require the signature of the president.
Then our next big hurdle will be in the next year or two to get a decree passed by the Montana Water Court and then well start building the facilities.
Those facilities will cost about $42 million and include expansion of and improvements to four reservoirs, future water supply facilities (pipelines), etc.
Its a long process, Morsette said. It looks like were finally getting there the light at the end of the tunnel now.
The expansion of the dams and reservoirs on the reservation are expected to provide more consistent and accessible water to downstream users, too. Project personnel hope that the East Fork Dam project near Mt. Baldy will enable that reservoir to provide year-round water flow to Beaver Creek.