Iowa Public Television


Water Rights on the Missouri River

posted on March 30, 2007

Two Native American tribes in Montana are seeking a plan to improve what they describe as some of the worst dry land farming around. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes want to use billions of gallons of water from the Missouri River to irrigate up to a half-million acres of sandy soil in the surrounding hills to grow potatoes, onions and other crops.

The tribes have asked federal and state officials to subsidize half the needed $45 million for the initial 15,000 acre project. The cornerstone of the plan is the tribes' state-recognized right to more than a million acre-feet of Missouri River water annually. That is enough water to cover a million acres with water one foot deep.

Montana assigned the water rights to the tribes in 1985, but the agreement included no money to develop the means to put the water to use. Tribal leaders expect water users downriver to oppose their plan. Downriver users of the Missouri include a barge industry forced to scale back operations in recent years due to drought.

Tags: agriculture boats Missouri River news rivers water