Home | Features | Politics | A Seat in the House

A Seat in the House

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

Tribal water rights

My last article discussed the Natural Resources Issues Interim Committee and its assignment to provide recommendations on solving water use issues in Idaho. There is another ongoing process that also impacts water use, identified as the Snake River Basin Adjudication, (SRBA). SRBA is a water rights adjudication of the Idaho portion of the Snake River and other water resources that has been ongoing since 1998. The SRBA is the legal inventory of approximately 150,000 water rights in 38 of our state’s 44 counties.

As a part of the adjudication, the Nez Perce Tribe has filed a number of claims to water rights under the auspices of treaties signed between the United States and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The state of Idaho and other Idaho water users have challenged these claims because they could impact the rights of other water users to continue to divert water for irrigation and other purposes. Under order of the SRBA the parties have been attempting to resolve the issues and the Governor’s office recently announced, “The parties have now agreed on a ‘Term Sheet' that will, among other issues, guide the settlement of the Nez Perce claims.”

Claims for the Tribe include not only in-streamflow water rights, but also claims associated with the Tribe’s consumptive water needs and rights to water springs on areas ceded by the Tribe in 1863. The proposed settlement is an effort to resolve all of the issues relating to the Nez Perce Tribe’s water right claims.

The Governor’s office has provided a document summarizing the provisions of the proposed agreement, including the Nez Perce Tribal Component of the agreement. The document summarizes the benefits to the Tribe as follows:

The Tribe’s multiple use water rights will be decreed in the amount of 50 thousand acre feet per year, primarily from Clearwater River sources. Water from other sources will be decreed only to the extent water is unappropriated and other water rights are not injured.

The Tribe’s water rights claims for water from springs on federal lands within the 1863 Nez Perce Treaty ceded area will be decreed, while similar rights claimed on non-federal lands will be waived.

BLM lands valued at $7 million will be transferred to the Tribe. The BLM’s recreational lands along the Clearwater River corridor will be excluded from this transfer.

The United States and the Tribe will enter agreements providing for tribal management of the Kooskia National Fish Hatchery and tribal co-management of the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery.

The United States, the Tribe, and the State of Idaho will enter into an agreement regarding use of 200 thousand acre-feet of water in Dworshak Reservoir as part of a flow augmentation plan for fish.

The United States will establish a $50 million water and fisheries trust fund for use by the Tribe in acquiring lands and water rights, restoring and improving fish habitat, fish production, agricultural development, cultural preservation, and water resource development.

The United States will provide $23 million for design and construction of sewer and water system projects for local Nez Perce tribal communities.

In lieu of contracting 45 thousand acre feet of Payette River storage space for a 30-year rental term, the United States will pay to the Tribe the $10.1 million rental value of the storage space.

The agreement does not resolve, but looks to separate discussions for a potential resolution of issues relating to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District water diversion system.

The proposed agreement, in addition to the Nez Perce component, also contains a Salmon/Clearwater Habitat Management and Restoration Initiative that, among other conditions, provides a process for establishing minimum stream flows for approximately 174 rivers and streams and provides for the State to administer a cooperative agreement under the Endangered Species Act that enhances fish habitat while protecting existing and future water uses and forestry activities.

The agreement also contains a Snake River Flow Component that, among other things, provides that certain minimum flows will be decreed by the SRBA to the Idaho Water Resources Board and requires that the State extend the provisions of State law to allow the Bureau of Reclamation to lease up to 427 thousand acre feet of water from Idaho water banks for flow augmentation to assist anadromous fish migration to the ocean.

The cost to the federal government (taxpayers) to implement the agreement is estimated at approximately $193 million over the 30 year period of the agreement. Even without the agreement however, a part of this funding would be required for compliance with the government’s obligation under a number of environmental laws.

The proposed agreement is only a proposal at this time; state and federal legislation and Tribal approval will be necessary to implement the agreement. The SRBA court will also require a final consent decree before any settlement is finalized. The proposed agreement has far reaching consequences on the use of all Idaho water resources and agreement by all interests on all the provisions of the settlement proposal is expected to be difficult to obtain.

Some may ask, “Why should we in our area be concerned with the proposed settlement and the SRBA final decree?” My response: Decisions made affecting water flows and water use on water resources south of us may result in increased downstream demand for our water to supplement or compensate for agreements made under the SRBA that diminish the benefits to downstream users of those resources.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to contact me anytime. My home phone is 265-0123 and my mailing address is P.O. Box 112, Dover, 83825.


Subscribe to comments feed Comments (0 posted)

total: | displaying:

Post your comment

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Quote

Please enter the code you see in the image:

  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Author info

Rep. George Eskridge Rep. George Eskridge the Republican Representative for District 1 in Idaho’s House, George Eskridge can be reached at 208-265-0123 or write PO Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

Tagged as:

Idaho, water, Natural Resources Interim Committee, Snake River Basin Adjudication, water rights, Snake River, Salmon/Clearwater Habitat Management and Restorati

Rate this article