April 1, 2005

For Further Information Contact: Steve Moore, (303) 447-8760

 

MAJOR WATER RIGHTS SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT ACCEPTED BY NEZ PERCE TRIBE OF IDAHO

BOULDER, CO – On March 23, 2005, the Nez Perce Tribal Committee (NPTEC) accepted the final terms of the water rights claims in the State of Idaho's Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA) in an historic 6 to 2 vote. By accepting the proposed settlement, the Nez Perce Tribe has agreed to:

  • 50,000 acre feet of water decreed to the Tribe for on-reservation uses;
  • Instream flows decreed on almost 200 Tribal priority streams to be held by the state of Idaho;
  • 600 springs claims decreed on about 6 million acres of Federal land in the Tribe's 1863 ceded area;
  • Over 11,000 acres of on-reservation Bureau of Land Management land transferred to the Tribe in trust;
  • $96 million in three separate funds, for Tribal drinking water and sewer projects, water development projects, in addition to various Tribal projects including cultural preservation and fishery habitat improvements.

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has represented the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho in the SRBA - both litigation and settlement phases -- for over 16 years. Congress enacted the Snake River Settlement Act of 2004 last November, and President Bush signed it into law on December 8, 2004. The Idaho Legislature approved the agreement and Governor Kempthorne signed the approval legislation two weeks ago. The approval by NPTEC represented the final sign-off by the three sovereigns. The Idaho water court will now undertake the final approval of the settlement and the entry of decrees to the water rights for the Tribe.

"Unlike the uncertainty involved in litigating such water right claims, the Nez Perce Tribe, by agreeing to the terms of the proposed settlement, was able to have a voice in the decision making involved in the final determination of our water rights claims," said the tribe's Chairman, Anthony Johnson.

According to NARF Senior Staff Attorney Steve Moore, "This is a major accomplishment for the Nez Perce Tribe and its members. This settlement represents the merging of traditional Indian water rights settlement elements with other major environmental issues confronting all of the people of Idaho. It could well be looked at by other states in the west seeking to sort out Indian water claims and other challenges presented by the federal Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act."

The Native American Rights Fund is a non-profit organization that has been protecting the legal and sovereign rights of tribes and Native people within the American legal system for 35 years. NARF is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado with offices in Anchorage, Alaska, and Washington, D.C.