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Avista to pay US$39M to Nez Perce tribe

The United States District Court for the District of Idaho has approved a settlement between the Nez Perce tribe and Avista Corporation (formerly Washington Water Power). Payments of US$39M will be made to the Nez Perce tribe over the next 44 years.

The tribe filed litigation against the predecessor of Avista Corporation, Washington Water Power, in 1991 claiming damages for salmon and steelhead trout losses on the main stem and south fork of the Clearwater river in Northern Idaho.

The Clearwater river runs through the Nez Perce reservation, which consists of approximately 750,000 acres of land in North Central Idaho. The tribe claimed that two power dams operated by Washington Water Power had blocked fish passage in violation of the tribe’s treaty fishing rights. These rights were reserved at the time the Nez Perce tribe entered into its first treaty with the US on 11 June 1855. The Treaty gave the Nez Perce tribe the exclusive right to take fish in all streams running through or bordering the reservation, and the right to take fish in common with the citizens of the territory at all usual and accustomed fishing places of the tribe. These treaty reserved fishing rights were not diminished in any of the tribe’s subsequent treaties with the US.

The settlement will allow the Nez Perce tribe to continue in its efforts to bring salmon and anadromous fish back to the reservation and other areas in the Northwest.

The tribe had earlier filed a similar suit against Idaho Power Company involving three dams on the Snake river in Idaho known as the Hell’s Canyon Complex. In that case too the parties were able to arrive at a settlement of the litigation, earmarking a portion of the settlement for fisheries restoration in the Snake river basin.