LEWISTON – The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe may try to stop what could be one of the largest water deals in the West.
Under the multimillion dollar deal, the Snake River Basin water rights held by the Nez Perce Tribe would be swapped for water rights on the Clearwater River. The swap guarantees the tribe $80 million in cash, plus tens of millions more for fish habitats and other environmental improvements.
It also protects Upper Snake River basin irrigators and some loggers and landowners from the Clearwater and Salmon river basins from endangered-species lawsuits.
The Sho-Bans object to a provision in the deal that gives the state and the Nez Perce control over streams on aboriginal land that belongs to a small band of their tribe known as the Lemhi-Shoshone.
“These three streams – the East Fork of the Salmon, the Lemhi and the Middle Fork of the Salmon – go 100 percent, top to bottom, through the Lemhi territory,” he said. “All of the streams in the Lemhi-Shoshone area are included in this agreement as if the Lemhi-Shoshones did not exist. That is what is so appalling.”
The Nez Perce, Congress and the Idaho Legislature have already approved the deal, but it must be finalized by the Snake River Adjudication Court, which handles water issues.
Sho-Ban Attorney Bill Bacon members will try to block that court from hearing the matter.
Attorneys for the state and Nez Perce Tribe are skeptical of the Sho-Ban’s chances in court.
Bacon said the agreement also violates a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that divided Columbia River salmon runs between tribal, sport and commercial anglers.
The court awarded fish and wildlife management responsibilities to the Sho-Bans, the Nez Perce and others with aboriginal territory along the river.