The Nez Perce Tribe has offered to limit its Snake River Basin Adjudication claims if irrigators support the removal of dams on the Snake River.
That is a new position for the tribe that has surfaced in the past two years, said Sherl L. Chapman, the executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association.
One proposal from the tribe was that if the water users would agree to certain conditions, including dam removal, the tribe would reduce its Snake River water claim to a maximum of 427,000 acre feet of water, Chapman said.
That fell apart for several reasons, including lack of support from U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth and the lack of agreement among all the tribes, Chapman said.
A water rights agreement was reached with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of southern Idaho, but it took several years, he said. The Nez Perces do not seem interested in coming to a resolution, and the longer the debate goes on, the better for the tribe, he said.
Chapman expects it to be at least two years before Nez Perce claims are heard in court.
The salmon issue is the most important one facing Idaho water users now, Chapman said at a meeting of water users held at the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District office.
His job is to keep the users of Snake River water from being caught between salmon and snails - and the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said.
The most important message he can bring to northern Idaho, Chapman said, is that southern Idaho irrigators feel the same way northern Idaho irrigators do about removal of dams, drawing down rivers and flow augmentation.
Water users need to provide a united front against anyone who claims those are solutions, he said.
A loosely knit environmental agenda dislikes all dams and is supporting removal not only where salmon runs are endangered but where salmon have never been a part of the habitat, he said.