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Nez Perce Hammering Out Plans
for Water Deal Dollars

by Associated Press
Capital Press, July 6, 2007

Tribe must make blueprint for Snake River management

LAPWAI - Leaders of the Nez Perce Tribe are looking inward for ideas on how to spend and manage more than $95 million from last month's deal with the federal government over Snake River water rights.

On June 26, the tribe's governing board hosted the first of three meetings to gather ideas for spending the money, now held in three separate trust accounts and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Under terms of the deal, the tribe cannot spend a single dime until it approves a blueprint for how it intends to use the money and manage land and other resources included in the deal. The plan must also be approved by the U.S. Interior Department.

The tribe and federal officials officially signed the settlement last month, three years after it was first announced by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and former Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Under terms of the agreement, the Nez Perce agreed to drop most of their claims to water in the Snake River basin in exchange for cash, 11,000 acres of land now managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and salmon conservation measures, including requirements for water releases from dams to aid migrating fish.

"Until we develop a management plan, none of that money can be spent," Samuel N. Penney, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee chairman, told about 50 tribal members.

The agreement resulted from state efforts to resolve more than 150,000 water rights claims in the Snake River basin.

In 1993, based on a treaty signed with the federal government in 1855, the Nez Perce filed thousands of water rights claims to try to establish minimum stream flows for migrating fish. The state prevailed in the first round in court, but the tribe appealed and a settlement was reached as the case was pending before the Idaho Supreme Court.

The agreement provided for congressional funding of three trust funds totaling $95.8 million, including:

Rules limit the tribe somewhat in how the money can be spent, but Penney and other leaders are encouraging members to share ideas and priorities.

Associated Press
Nez Perce Hammering Out Plans for Water Deal Dollars
Capital Press, July 6, 2007

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