Guest column: Judge was right to dismiss the Pelton Project lawsuit

Aug 20, 2018

Bend Bulletin

Guest column: Judge was right to dismiss the Pelton Project lawsuit

BY EUGENE “AUSTIN” GREENE JR.

My Indian name is Mustalik. I am a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and am privileged to serve as chairman of the Tribal Council. I come from the Wasco and Warm Springs people on the Columbia River, and I write to address issues raised in The Bulletin’s recent editorial, “Judge deals blow to enviro group in local dam lawsuit,” and a guest column in response to that editorial from the group that filed the lawsuit.

Since time immemorial, my people have depended on the fisheries of the Columbia River and its tributaries, including the Deschutes River. We are a salmon people, and as the Supreme Court observed over a century ago, those fish are as necessary to our existence and survival as the atmosphere we breathe. Together, water and salmon are among the first gifts of the Creator.

We are also a “treaty tribe,” the successor to the Treaty with the Tribes of Middle Oregon of June 25, 1855. Our treaty ceded 10 million acres of land to the United States, while reserving the Warm Springs Reservation for our exclusive use and occupation as a permanent homeland. We also reserved rights to fish at our usual and accustomed fishing places throughout our aboriginal lands. My tribe possesses inherent sovereignty to manage the natural resources of the Warm Springs Reservation and throughout its aboriginal lands.

The Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project is partly within the Warm Springs Reservation. The tribe and state of Oregon share responsibility to regulate the project’s impact on water quality. The tribe and Portland General Electric now co-own the project, though during the initial 50-year license, PGE was the sole owner of most of the project. The project substantially altered the natural conditions of the river, causing ecological impacts, including water quality problems. Most significantly for the tribe, the project extirpated our treaty-protected fish above the project because of the failure of fish passage in the early 1970s.

During relicensing more than a decade ago, the tribe’s principal goal was the re-establishment of self-sustaining anadromous fish runs above the project. The tribe and PGE led a multiparty, collaborative decision-making process, resulting in a settlement agreement that served as the foundation for the new federal license for the project. The tribe’s goal of fish passage was a centerpiece of both the settlement and the license.

As a result of major investments from the tribe and PGE, the project is now passing fish, and we are on our way to achieving our goal of returning the fish to their home. We recognize there is still much to do to improve conditions on the Deschutes River, both above and below the project. Science undeniably tells us, however, that the ecological function of the river is improving.

We manage the basin’s water resources for the benefit of the next seven generations of our people. Managing the Deschutes River is complex and requires patience, cooperation, respect and humility. No single person has all of the answers. We need each other to find the common path forward. We should heed the lessons of our elders and the culture of collaboration that stakeholders in the basin have built over many decades.

We can achieve better outcomes through collaborative, interest-based decision-making instead of further litigation. That decision-making should consider the basin as the interrelated ecological system it is and resist the temptation to focus on the parochial interests of individual stakeholders. Viewed in that context, Judge Simon and The Bulletin got it right. The tribe and PGE are managing the Pelton Project consistent with the law, our cultural teachings and the spirit of collaboration, and river conditions are improving. It is not for the courts to decide to the future of the Deschutes River. It is up to all of us.

— Eugene “Austin” Greene Jr. serves as chairman of the Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

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