A bitter water bill dispute between the Crow Tribe and Lodge Grass, Montana in the United States is headed for mediation. The city turned off the water supply feeding the Crow reservation in September due to an unpaid water bill of $70,000. The tribe counter claimed that the town owed it $107,000 for portable showers and portable toilets it brought in to deal with the crisis, and turned the water back on itself in protest.
The town has advised the tribe that the water is not treated and therefore is not suitable for drinking or washing. However, the tribe’s own Water Authority has certified that the water in the supply from Lodge Grass is potable.
Mediation has been scheduled to settle the dispute, which has spread beyond the immediate billing and supply issues into larger considerations, such as who owns the water supply and the equipment and infrastructure supporting it. These sorts of legal ambiguities are not uncommon in the American West and Southwest where Indian Tribes have autonomous sovereign authority over their lands stemming from a series of treaties signed with the United States government in the 19th and 20th centuries. When their land is very close to incorporated municipal land, it is often unclear which authority trumps which when it comes to common resources and shared aspects of administration, such as law enforcement, water and electrical supplied, and even where lawsuits and criminal charges should be adjudicated.