A bill that would require the Bonneville Power Administration to compensate the Spokane Tribe of Indians for land lost with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam passed the U.S. Senate on June 28 and was sent to the House Committee on Natural Resources for consideration.

Sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), S. 216 would provide annual payments to the tribe beginning in 2022, initially totaling about $6 million per year through 2029, and increasing to about $8 million per year in 2030, according to a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate.

The CBO cost analysis says that it anticipates that BPA would raise electricity rates to cover the costs through 2029. Beginning in 2030, BPA's interest payments to the Treasury would be reduced each year by $2.7 million to offset a portion of those costs.

However, "If the bill passes and takes effect, Bonneville estimates that the annual payments would not result in perceptible rate impacts to its utility customers," an email from BPA to NW Fishletter stated.

This is the third time a bill to compensate the Spokane Tribe has passed the Senate since it was first introduced in 1999, and the first time it has passed with a Democratically controlled House. According to a news release from Cantwell's office, the legislation won support from the Trump administration last year, and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke in favor of it in a March visit to the Spokane Indian Reservation.

According to findings in the Act, when Grand Coulee Dam was built, the federal government recognized that the project would affect both the Spokane Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and that it would be appropriate for both tribes to receive a share of the revenues from its power production. In June 1940, Congress agreed to pay $4,700 to the Spokane Tribe, and $63,000 to the Colville Tribes. Then, in 1994, Congress ratified a settlement agreement with the Colville Tribes for $53 million for past use of its land, and annual payments for continuing use of its land of $15.25 million, adjusted annually based on revenue from the sale of power. The Spokane Tribe did not receive a settlement.

BPA spokesman David Wilson told NW Fishletter that Bonneville paid the Colville Tribe $20 million in fiscal year 2018, and estimates those payments will increases to $23 million from 2020 through 2022, and to $24 million in 2023.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.