Lewiston Orchards Project

Returning land and river function to Nez Perce Tribe

About the Project

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Bureau) Lewiston Orchards Project supplies irrigation water to approximately 22,000 homes on former commercial agricultural land near Lewiston, Idaho. Much of the project’s infrastructure is located in the Lapwai Creek watershed on and adjacent to the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, with some on land taken from the Nez Perce Tribe. Project operations negatively impact the Tribe’s natural and cultural resources and Snake River Basin steelhead, listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

After the Tribe litigated against the federal government for many years, a collaborative effort among the Bureau, Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs identified a set of potential solutions. The parties settled on an approach that will shift irrigation from surface water to groundwater and return to the Tribe the Project’s land and infrastructure located on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. The Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District will supply water to its customers using four new groundwater wells. This resolution satisfies all parties and allows the Bureau to step out of the Project entirely. Two of the wells have been completed, and the remaining two wells will be completed when funding is secured.

The Nez Perce Tribe plans to remove the 12-foot high, 80-foot-wide Sweetwater Dam Diversion once the water exchange and title transfer are complete. The Tribe plans to cease all other diversions, except to increase flows to maximize steelhead habitat.

Owner: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Size: 12 feet tall, 80 feet wide
Project Cost: $30-32 million
ORF Investment: outreach and education
Miles Opened: 19
Fish: Snake River Basin steelhead, fall chinook salmon
Status: Planning

  • Open 19 miles of restored habitat for fish passage
  • Improve the resilience of federally listed steelhead by providing access to cold, spring-fed habitat
  • Return land condemned for irrigation project to Reservation status
  • Enable restoration of traditional cultural practices of the Nez Perce Tribe
  • Demonstrate an important model of collaboration among a Tribe, an irrigation district, and the Bureau of Reclamation
  • Provide a more reliable source of water for the residents of Lewiston
  • Models rare instance of returning land to a Reservation and eliminating surface water diversions in a Bureau of Reclamation project
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Project Partners

Nez Perce Tribe

Trout Unlimited

Lewiston Orchard Irrigation District

Lewiston Chamber of Commerce

Nez Perce County

City of Lewiston

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs