While the drought is putting a drain on electricity production by the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates 29 hydroelectric dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers, the agency refused to foot the Yakama Indian Nation's bill.
"It was pretty much a blow to me to hear from the BPA administrator that he couldn't find the funds ... to assist in this," said Randy Settler, a tribal council member.
Mike Hassen, a spokesman for the BPA, said the tribe's bill was "pretty vague" about what the $32,000 would cover.
"We're not paying even though it was well-intended," Hansen said. "The Yakama tribe basically went off and did something on their own and sent us the bill."
In March, several tribal members held two events in the mountains, bringing traditional foods such as roots and berries. The tribe, whose reservation is near the Columbia River in south-central Washington, believes the ceremonies were beneficial. At the Yakima airport, 1.86 inches of precipitation has been recorded since the first of the year, with more than half of that - 0.98 inches, occurring since March 1. The year-to-date total is 1.47 inches below normal, while the amount since March 1 is 0.40 inches less than normal.
"We've had more rain since those events," Settler said. "We've had a lot of rain."
Settler and BPA Acting Administrator Steve Wright discussed traditional tribal methods for dealing with drought in March, Hansen said.
Hansen said Wright was willing to listen to tribal proposals and possibly provide some resources, but Settler apparently took the conversation as approval to move forward.
"Unfortunately no formal proposal came forward," Hansen said. "They went out and performed the ceremony and then sent us a bill."