Tribes Ratify Long-Term
by John O'Connell
FORT HALL, Idaho -- The Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Council formally ratified a long-term agreement May 6 to lease 45,000 acre-feet of storage water to Idaho Ground Water Appropriators Inc.
The tribes plan to re-invest the revenue in its Water Resources Department.
IGWA will apply the water toward the 50,000 acre-foot obligation it owes the Surface Water Coalition each season under the terms of a recent settlement to the coalition's water call.
IGWA irrigators have also agreed to reduce their annual groundwater consumption by a combined 240,000 acre-feet to stabilize the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The coalition filed its call more than a decade ago, concerned groundwater use was contributing to declining spring flows into the Snake River below Blackfoot.
Clay Landry, managing director of the tribes' consulting firm WestWater in Boise, said the lease is for five years, with a planned two-year extension.
"That multi-year aspect of the lease agreement is attractive to both sides," Landry said. "It's an important revenue source for the tribes they can depend on year-in and year-out, but also a source of water for IGWA year-in and year-out."
Landry did not disclose financial terms but said it's a "meaningful payment."
"We haven't earmarked money specifically for anything yet. We're looking at a number of projects," Landry said.
The tribes hired WestWater about eight years ago to develop a marketing plan for water obtained under treaty rights. Brett Bovee, WestWater's regional research director, explained a 1908 Supreme Court ruling granted that reservations were established with enough water for the tribes to make a living from their land, with the date of each reservation's establishment serving as the priority date. The court also ruled tribal water rights can't be eliminated due to non-use.
Water rights for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes weren't quantified until 1990. The tribes were granted 581,000 acre-feet from several sources, including 46,000 acre-feet of storage in American Falls Reservoir and 89,000 acre-feet in Palisades Reservoir. The government also allowed the tribes to create a water bank and lease the two storage rights.
In 1998, the tribes started leasing water to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for salmon flow augmentation. They switched to leasing water to Idaho Power in 2008, but the utility recently ended the lease to produce power from its new natural gas peaker plant.
Landry said water revenue has enabled the tribal Water Resources Department to move out of a trailer into a new office, and to fund flow meters to get a "better accounting process of where water is going on the reservation."
Landry said the tribes are considering installing variable-speed pivots to avoid over-watering fields in the Michaud area and may install additional stream-flow gages.
"There's the potential for IGWA to increase the amount of water they may want during the five years," Landry said.
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