Hydroelectric Project Moves Closer to Reality on Crow Reservation

Mar 30, 2016

Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote (R) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Great Plains Director Mike Ryan sign a Storage Allocation Agreement at the Bureau's office in Billings. The agreement defines the terms and conditions for the Crow Tribe to use their stored water from Bighorn Lake.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

The Crow Tribe moved another step closer to developing its water resources, including a proposed hydroelectric dam project at Yellowtail Afterbay Dam.

Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote says the signing of the Storage Allocation Agreement comes after decades of litigation and negotiation.

“For well over 50 years the Yellowtail Dam and the storage behind the dam has been a symbol of our wealth being held back,” he says. “And today we see this as a way forward where we begin to recognize and begin to see the economic impacts of the dam and the storage allocation with the proposed hydroelectric dam that we’re going to be pursing here in the near future.

The Storage Allocation Agreement defines the terms and conditions for the tribe to use their stored water from Bighorn Lake. This agreement stems from the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2010. It quantifies the Tribe’s water rights.

Mike Ryan, the Great Plains Regional Director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, says the agreement provides up to 300,000 acre feet of water for the Tribe’s use and enjoyment.

“For folks who are involved in water resource management 300,000 acre feet is a lot of water,” Ryan says.

The Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2010 also authorizes funding for the rehabilitation of the dilapidated Crow Irrigation Project. It also provides safe drinking water on the Crow Reservation through the construction of a Municipal, Rural and Industrial (MR&I) water system for the Tribe.

“Now we have that opportunity and the capability of not only producing hydro but also utilizing downstream industrial use,” Old Coyote says. “And water probably becoming a number one commodity here in the future it’s going to be very beneficial to the Crow people to utilize this water.”

Yellowtail Afterbay Dam
Credit U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The Crow Tribe has said it would like to have an 8- to 12-megawatt hydroelectric project operating by 2018.

U-S Interior Secretary Sally Jewell toured the Yellowtail Afterbay site in 2014. While there she announced the Crow Tribe would receive a $665,000 grant for its hydropower grant project, the largest of 21 tribal projects to develop energy and mineral resources. The money will allow the tribe to complete of all technical, environmental, engineering and economic studies needed to build a hydro project on the reservation.