Crow tribe awarded $655K for Yellowtail hydro project

Billings Gazette

by Tom Lutey

FORT SMITH – The Crow Tribe will receive $665,000 for a hydropower dam project, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced Friday.

Jewell announced the grant while touring the Yellowtail Afterbay Hydropower Project below Bighorn Lake. The money is part of a $3.2 million award going to 21 tribal projects to develop energy and mineral resources. The Yellowtail project received the largest grant of the 21 awarded.

The Department of Interior is “very pleased that the largest grant that we’re going to provide for energy development projects is going to the Crow tribe,” Jewell said. “It looks like a great project. It will not only generate power that we hope, as you do, will bring economic opportunity to the tribe, but also help solve the dissolved nitrogen and oxygen problems downstream that are impacting fish.”

The Crow tribe will use the money to complete all the technical, environmental, engineering and economic analyses required for an 8- to 12-megawatt hydroelectric project. The Crow tribe would like to have the $44.5 million dam operating by 2018.

Tribal officials said the project has been years in the making. In 2010 the Crow tribe reached a $461 million water rights settlement with the federal government. The settlement quantified the Crow tribe’s water rights and created funding for several tribal water projects, including hydropower generation. The tribe has exclusive right to generate and market power from the Yellowtail Afterbay, a dammed collection basin located a few miles downstream from Yellowtail Dam.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is traveling the state with Jewell for the next two days, said the dam project makes good economic sense. In 2009, Tester introduced and then successfully helped pass the Crow Tribe Water Settlement Act.

“There’s a lot of water bodies across the state of Montana that could with a little modification generate clean power,” Tester said. “That’s what they’re doing down here and I think its going to offer them the ability to create some economy and create some jobs and eventually create some spinoff businesses from some electricity that’s generated right here.”

Before the Fort Smith stop, Jewell met in Billings with representatives from the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council. Representatives from every tribe but the Blackfeet met with Jewell to discuss land, water and wildlife issues.

Jewell will visit Fort Peck this weekend to tour the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System.