Idaho Senate Finalizes Historic Water Agreement
BOISE, Idaho The state Legislature has ratified a historic agreement between the Nez Perce Indian Tribe, the federal government and the state's water users, setting water policy in Idaho for the next 30 years.
The agreement calls for the tribe to drop its claim to nearly all water in the Snake River Basin. In exchange, it will receive annual rights to 50,000 acre-feet of water in the Clearwater River, plus $80 million in cash and land and a pledge from state and federal governments to provide tens of millions of dollars for fish habitat and other environmental improvements.
"The Legislature's approval of these three pieces of legislation gives us the tools we need to protect Idaho's sovereignty over its water," Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said in a statement issued after the Senate approved it 27-7 Wednesday.
The state House and Congress approved the agreement earlier. After Kempthorne signs the bill, the agreement will be sent to the tribe for final approval.
Opponents said the agreement opens the door for more tribes to press claims. Already, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of southeastern Idaho has threatened to sue the state, saying the agreement steps on their aboriginal turf and that they should have been included in negotiations.
Several senators opposed to the bill said the state appeared to be folding its cards while a holding a winning hand. A water adjudication judge ruled in 1999 that the Nez Perce treaty did not amount to a water right for the entire Snake River, a decision the tribe appealed.
Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes, however, said the agreement is something all sides have already said they can live with.
Source: Associated Press