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Economic and dam related articles

Congress Passes
Nez Perce Tribe's Water Rights Settlement

by Staff
Native American Times, November 29, 2004

The Snake River Water Rights Act of 2004 was approved by the Congress prior to adjournment on Saturday, November 20th, and is expected to be signed by the President in the coming week. This Act is one piece of a complex settlement of claims by the Nez Perce Tribe in the State of Idaho’s Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA). Remaining pieces of the settlement include approval processes by the Idaho Legislature and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The federal legislation:

  1. recognizes the Tribe’s right to 50,000 acre-feet of water for consumptive uses on reservation lands;
  2. recognizes Nez Perce access and use rights to water springs on federal public lands within the Tribe’s original 1855 reservation boundaries;
  3. transfers $7 million worth of Bureau of Land Management lands from within its current reservation boundaries to the Tribe;
  4. establishes three trust funds for the Tribe -- $60.1 million water and fisheries development fund, $23 million water and sewer improvement fund, and a $38 million habitat trust fund, one-third of which will be controlled by the Tribe;
  5. directs that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tribe will enter into agreements providing for Nez Perce management of the Kooskia National Fish Hatchery and co-management of the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery; and
  6. directs that the Tribe and the United States, with State of Idaho input, will enter into an agreement for the use of 200,000 acre-feet of water from the Dworshak Project on the North Fork Clearwater River as part of an improved flow augmentation plan for salmon.
In exchange for these provisions, the Tribe will, once the settlement is finally adopted, agree to relinquish off-reservation instream flow rights in streams and rivers in its aboriginal territory, as well as water springs claims on private lands. Under the State of Idaho legislative approval process, the State will agree, over the 30 year life of the agreement under the Endangered Species Act, to provide up to one-half million acre-feet of water annually out of the Snake River and tributaries above Hells Canyon for flow augmentation for salmon, and to decree minimum stream flows in approximately 200 streams and rivers in the Salmon and Clearwater River Basins.

The Native American Rights Fund has represented the Nez Perce Tribe in its water rights claims in the State of Idaho’s SRBA since January 1988. The Tribe’s claims to water rights for instream flows in the Snake River and its primary tributaries, the Salmon and Clearwater Rivers, to springs on lands ceded by the Tribe in 1863, and to on-reservation consumptive use of water, were filed in the SRBA in 1993. The Nez Perce claims dispute has been the biggest outstanding dispute in the SRBA, which includes a legal inventory of about 180,000 water rights claims in 38 of Idaho’s 44 counties. The Nez Perce Tribe, the United States, the State of Idaho, and local communities and water users in Idaho engaged in a court-ordered mediation to resolve the claims of the Nez Perce Tribe since 1998.

Associated Press & Staff
Congress Passes Nez Perce Tribe's Water Rights Settlement
Native American Times, November 29, 2004

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