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Economic and dam related articles

Nez Perce Settlement Opposed

by T.J. Bruce
Capital Press, March 18, 2005

I oppose the SRBA Water Rights Settlement Agreement for the Nez Perce Tribe. Of the 44 counties in Idaho, Clearwater, Idaho, Lewis, and Nez Perce counties are on the verge of being sold out by Idaho's U.S. congressional delegation, Gov. Kempthorne and his cronies, and the Idaho State Legislature for the benefit of the big water users in southern Idaho.

Clearwater will likely suffer the most because our economic condition is much worse than the other counties I mentioned. The land area of Clearwater County is about two-thirds federal lands of which the feds allow very little timber harvesting, and now coupling that with the fallout from this agreement doesn't paint a rosy economic picture for us. These are dollars we count on to run our school and road systems which are even now operating on micro budgets.

Clearwater County is already the state's "whipping boy" on these water issues in that Dworshak Reservoir is in a constant state of draw-down to flush and cool downstream reservoirs for juvenile chinook salmon and steelhead migration to the ocean mostly done to benefit the Tribe. We are talking about dumping thousands of acre feet of water from the reservoir behind North America's tallest straight-axis dam to assist this migration.

To compound this disgrace, very little of the spill is used to generate electricity. The tribe claims running the water through turbines versus spilling it down more than 700 feet of spillway causes the downstream water to contain more saturated nitrogen, which is supposedly hazardous to the fish. About the only time we see a full reservoir is on July Fourth and with the limited snowpack, we probably won't see that this year. The draw-down has a continuous and definite adverse impact on tourism dollars and power production. Transporting logs via the reservoir has been totally eclipsed by the draw-down. These were main selling points used to convince Clearwater residents on the virtues of building Dworshak Dam in the first place.

Why was the proposed Nez Perce Water Rights Settlement Agreement put together under a cloak of secrecy, an agreement honoring tribal claims that will adversely affect private property owners and their inalienable rights over a huge area of north-central Idaho, southeast Washington, and northeast Oregon? Realize, there are only about 3,000 Nez Perce Tribe members with about 1,800 currently living on the diminished reservation. In the past, the tribal leaders sold off much of the land within the current reservation boundaries. How can such a small group of people with relatively small land holdings be allowed to hold the rest of us (probably more than 100,000), who live in this region, hostage to the secret political maneuvering of the politicians and big water users of South Idaho?

Grant it, the tribe has treaty rights. I believe this agreement goes far beyond those treaty rights. I believe those who developed this agreement should have used the diminished 1863 Treaty instead of the 1855 Treaty. The 1863 Treaty defines the current reservation boundaries which contain about 757,000 acres or about 10.8 percent of the 7 million-plus acres of land contained in the 1855 Treaty. Besides that, land owned by the Nez Perce Tribe within the 1863 reservation boundaries was significantly diminished by the Dawes Act of 1893. This Act further reduced the Nez Perce Tribal land holdings to 86,500 acres or about 11.4 percent of the land contained in the 1863 Treaty.

Admittedly, I have a "dog in this fight" in that we have several water rights that could be in jeopardy if the Nez Perce Water Rights Settlement Agreement is approved by the State Legislature. Therefore, I am absolutely opposed to the Nez Perce Water Rights Settlement Agreement as currently proposed. I will support an agreement that diminishes the tribe's water rights to match their diminished land holdings.

T.J. Bruce, Orofino, Idaho
Nez Perce Settlement Opposed
Capital Press, March 18, 2005

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