Trump Finally Signs Stalled Spending Bill, Including Montana Water Rights Protection Act

Trump Finally Signs Stalled Spending Bill, Including Montana Water Rights Protection Act

News Type: State, Federal Source: Billings Gazette
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Much is on the line for Montana agriculture in the omnibus spending and COVID-19 President Donald Trump signed Sunday.

A landmark water rights settlement, a $20-per-acre direct payment to farmers and a new round of assistance to counter poor trade conditions are just a few of the provisions farmers were praising Congress for passing Dec. 22.

The biggest detail for agriculture is the Montana Water Rights Protection Act, a $1.9 billion settlement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Often misunderstood as a northwest Montana issue, the water rights at play concern every farmer drawing water from the Yellowstone, Clark Fork or Missouri rivers, or any of the rivers’ tributaries from the Idaho state line to Mosby, 450 miles to the east. No farmer or non-native community has water rights claims senior to CSKT’s 165-year-old treaty right to fish at all usual and accustomed places on those waterways.

The settlement ends potentially endless legal battles over water.

“The Water Rights Protection Act is big for our producers,” said John Youngberg, Montana Farm Bureau executive vice president.

A failure of the bill to become law would have undone Montana’s best chance in decades of settling the water rights dispute. There were state Republican legislators opposed to the settlement still working to thwart it, Youngberg said.