Nez Perce Water Settlement to be Implemented
Categories: Water Rights
On May 15, 2004, the Nez Perce Tribe, the State of Idaho, and the federal Department of the Interior announced publicly that a settlement of the tribe’s claims in the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA) had been reached. Since 1998, the Nez Perce Tribe, the United States, the State of Idaho, and local communities and water users in Idaho had engaged in mediation as part of the SRBA to resolve the claims of the Nez Perce Tribe in the Snake River and several of its tributaries. The SRBA is the legal inventory of about 150,000 water rights in 38 of Idaho’s 44 counties. The Nez Perce dispute had been the biggest outstanding dispute in the Snake River Basin.
For the Tribe, the settlement: quantified the Tribe’s on‑reservation consumptive use reserved water right at 50,000 acre feet a year with a priority date of 1855; established a $50 million multiple‑use water and fisheries resources trust fund; provided $23 million for the design and construction of water supply and sewer system improvements on the reservation; transferred management authority of Kooskia National Fish Hatchery to the Tribe; and transferred a portion of Bureau of Land Management‑administered land — about 12,000 acres — within the Nez Perce Reservation valued at $7 million to the Tribe. The settlement also provided that instream flows will be established and held by the Idaho Water Resources Board for over 200 streams and rivers selected by the Tribe as critical salmon habitat; required the State of Idaho to administer two cooperative agreements under the Endangered Species Act; and established a Habitat Fund to provide funding for habitat improvement projects.
In November of 2004, the United States Congress enacted a law — PL 108‑447– approving the settlement, and authorizing the payment of the settlement funds to the Tribe. President Bush signed the law on December 8, 2004. In the Spring of 2005 both the Idaho Legislature and the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee enacted legislation approving the settlement agreement.
On January 9, 2007, the SRBA Court heard the Joint Motion for Entry of Consent Decree filed by the Tribe, the United States, and the State of Idaho, and on January 30, 2007 the presiding judge entered a written order approving the Consent Decree. No appeals were filed with the Idaho Supreme Court challenging the final consent decree.
It is expected that in April 2007 the Secretary of the Interior will enter findings in the Federal Register that all the conditions of the Term Sheet have been met. The State and the Tribe will issue similar contemporaneous statements that all of the Term Sheet conditions have been met. Once the three sovereigns enter their final findings, the settlement provisions relating to the transfer of the 11,000 acres of BLM land; shared management of the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery; and management of the Kooskia National Fish Hatchery will be finally carried out.
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