A bill to compensate the Spokane Tribe for lands lost with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 16, and was signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20.

Under the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act, S. 216, the Bonneville Power Administration will provide annual payments of about $6 million a year from 2022 through 2029, increasing to about $8 million per year in 2030, according to a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate.

Findings of the act state that when the dam was built, the federal government recognized 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 power revenues to compensate for their losses.

In 1940, Congress authorized an initial payment to both tribes, and then ratified a settlement agreement with the Colville tribes with annual payments for continuing use of its land. That payment—from Bonneville—is now about $20 million, and is expected to increase to $23 million from 2020 through 2022, and to $24 million in 2023, according to BPA spokesman David Wilson.

The Spokane Tribe did not receive a settlement, and the act rectifies that.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who sponsored the bill, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who supported the bill in the House, jointly said in a news release that the settlement provided by the act was long overdue, and corrects a flawed adjudication process that omitted the Spokane Tribe.

Wilson said BPA "is pleased that this longstanding issue has been resolved equitably for the Spokane Tribe. The Act provides [Bonneville] and Northwest electric ratepayers cost certainty on this issue as we move toward discussions of long-term power sales contracts with our utility customers."

The Congressional Budget Office's cost analysis anticipated BPA would raise electricity rates to cover costs through 2029. Starting in 2030, when the payments increase to $8 million annually, Bonneville can reduce the amount it makes in interest payments to the U.S. Treasury each year by $2.7 million.

However, Wilson said, "BPA's plan is to not raise rates to cover this new obligation; rather it will absorb the costs from within existing programs."

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.