Crow Tribe Municipal, Rural, and Industrial Water System – Regulatory Background
The construction of a Municipal, Rural, and Industrial (MR&I) Water System is directed by two main regulatory frameworks, the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Parallel to this regulatory context, the design and construction of the project will be guided by the Engineering Master Plan.
Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement
The Crow Tribe (Tribe) and the state of Montana signed an agreement (Crow Tribe-Montana Water Rights Compact of 1999, or Compact) to settle disputes related to the Tribe's water rights. The Compact provides for a number of water rights control and uses by the Tribe. The ongoing legal proceeding for their water rights is a separate process from the water project proposals discussed as part of the MR&I EA.
The U.S. Congress passed the Claims Resolution Act (Public Law 111-291, December 8, 2010) which contained the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2010 (Settlement Act or Act). The Settlement Act authorizes and directs the Secretary of Interior to execute the Crow Tribe-Montana Water Rights Compact, and to take any other action necessary to carry out the Compact under Title IV of the Settlement Act.
The Settlement Act identifies a number of federal, state, and tribal actions for the Crow's use and management of their water rights. The Act authorizes funds for developing a new MR&I water system for the reservation, among other projects. The Act includes a storage allocation of water for the Tribe in Bighorn Lake.
The Tribe and the Secretary of Interior must enter into agreements to implement the projects and other related actions identified in the Settlement Act. Figure 1 shows the various activities authorized in the Settlement Act and how they relate to preparation of the MR&I EA. Agreements are required for most of the projects, including the MR&I. For the MR&I project, Sections 406 of the Settlement Act directs the Secretary to enter into implementation agreements with the Tribe upon their request.
National Environmental Policy Act / Other Federal Compliance
In implementing the Compact, the Act further directs the Secretary of Interior to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and other applicable laws and regulations. The Secretary is responsible for carrying out all federal compliance activities necessary to implement the Compact. The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is the lead agency with regard to federal compliance activities for the MR&I project.
In August 2012, Reclamation and the Tribe entered into an implementation agreement for the MR&I project. Several environmental compliance activities are included:
- The Tribe agrees to perform activities required by NEPA and to assist Reclamation in assuring compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Executive Order 11593 for Protection and Enhancement of the Cultural Environment, and the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act.
- Reclamation agrees to make final determinations under NEPA and other laws, and to conduct consultations required by the NHPA and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
- Based on negotiations for a MR&I Memorandum of Agreement (R12AV60002) between the Tribe, Reclamation, and the BIA, the Tribe will: 1) undertake preparation of NEPA documents and analyses, and 2) undertake cultural resource surveys for compliance with NHPA. Reclamation will: 1) review environmental and cultural resource compliance documents, 2) issue any finding of no significant impacts (FONSI), 3) issue any decision document, and 4) conduct NHPA and NAGPRA consultations and other related activities.
Reclamation has a responsibility to protect and conserve trust assets of the Tribe and of Tribal members. This responsibility extends to providing oversight of the expenditure of appropriated federal project funds to best serve the interests of the Tribe and its members. Project reviews are needed to ensure collective government actions taken by Interior agencies and the Tribe fulfill trust asset responsibilities, while meeting environmental laws and regulations.
In accordance with NEPA, an EA is being prepared for the construction of the MR&I system. As the lead agency, Reclamation has determined that the activities associated with MR&I construction represent a federal discretionary action and that an EA is the appropriate type of environmental review for this project.
The EA document is used to inform decision-makers and the public on the proposed action, develop reasonable alternatives of project actions, and to summarize the environmental effects of the alternatives. Based on the EA, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) may be prepared if the EA demonstrates that there are no significant impacts resulting from the proposed action; if not, an Environmental Impact Statement will be initiated.
EA Scope and Process
The EA document will include discussion of the proposed project, the need for the proposal, the environmental impacts of the alternatives considered, and a summary of consultations with agencies, other interested entities, and the public.
A draft EA document has been prepared to evaluate the MR&I Project, with a final EA and decision document to follow. The Draft EA is available for downloading and browsing. Hard copies of the EA are also available at the following locations:
Bureau of Reclamation
2nd Floor – Room 200 and 5th Floor – Room 514
2021 4th Avenue North
Billings, MT 59101
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Building #2, Room 69
Crow Agency, MT 59022
Crow Tribe Water Resource Department
189 Heritage Lane
Crow Agency, MT 59022
As a member of the public, your involvement and comments provide useful and valuable information at all stages of the EA process.
Engineering Master Plan
The Tribe has hired Bartlett & West, a professional consulting firm, to prepare project engineering master plans for the MR&I project, which will guide design and construction of project facilities. A master plan is a large, technical document that contains information about location, design, materials, methods, testing, and operation of water project facilities. The master plans will be updated as new details are agreed upon and finalized.
Reclamation and the Tribe will review and negotiate changes to the final engineering master plans for the MR&I project. While the final plan provides guidance for administering the project work, some activities may need to be coordinated immediately before or during construction. Full completion of the project may require up to ten years or more. Annual work plans or unit work plans will be prepared by the Tribe before the start of each construction season and reviewed by Reclamation. The plans will allow for scheduling further field surveys and site-specific environmental reviews.
Project Funding and Indian Trust Asset Needs
Section 414 of the Settlement Act authorizes a total of $460,000,000 (as indexed) for the following:
|131,843,000||Crow Irrigation Project rehabilitation and improvement|
|246,381,000||MR&I system design and construction|
|4,776,000||Tribal Compact administration|
|20,000,000||Energy development projects|
|47,000,000||MR&I system operation, maintenance, and replacement|
|10,000,000||Crow Irrigation Project operation, maintenance, and replacement|
Reclamation has a responsibility to protect and conserve trust assets of the Tribe and of Tribal members. This responsibility extends to providing oversight of the expenditure of appropriated federal project funds to best serve the interests of the Tribe and its members and ensure the final product meets applicable industry standards. Project reviews are needed to ensure collective government actions taken by Interior agencies and the Tribe fulfill trust asset responsibilities while meeting environmental laws and regulations.