The Makah Tribe is a Federally Recognized Tribe located in Neah Bay, WA. The Makah people maintain a unique connection to the sea and ocean resources. During the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay negotiations, Caqawix (tsuh-ka-wihtl), a Makah Chief, famously told Euro-American settlers, “I want the sea. That is my country.” The Tribe's inherent sovereignty and management of marine spaces and resources continues today and is partially reflected through a large Usual and Accustomed Fishing Area and extensive treaty fisheries. Due to their remote location in the rugged northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula, the Tribe faces seasonal shortages of electricity and freshwater and are at risk of experiencing a severe (9.0 magnitude) earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The Makah are also adjacent to powerful ocean waves that, if harnessed for electricity generation and desalination, may be an important contributor to addressing the Tribe's identified coastal resilience and environmental sustainability priorities. However, the location-specific benefits, requirements and limitations of wave energy integration are not fully understood, and the Makah Tribe’s decision-making regarding wave energy would benefit from further clarification that includes quantitative analysis, which is the primary focus of our research.
We are investigating the potential for wave energy integration to address the Makah Tribe's priorities by adapting a techno-economic framework previously developed for wave-powered ocean observation. In collaboration with the Makah Ocean Policy Work Group as directed by the Makah Tribal Council, and through discussions with Tribal staff representing a broad range of Tribal functions, we have begun to assess the Tribe's goals, concerns, and interests related to wave-powered desalination and electricity generation, such as diversifying and adding freshwater resources, assisting disaster preparedness and recovery (e.g., tsunami response), and supporting re-electrification during blackouts. Our initial investigations suggest that desalination and long-term diversification of freshwater resources may be the most effective use of wave energy by the Makah Tribe. Our model for wave-powered reverse osmosis is driven by a 5-year wave hindcast to identify desalination potential in terms of scale and spatial requirements, micro-siting, and seasonality. The model integrates municipal water production data and we compare its outputs to alternative freshwater production strategies to identify practical and responsible technology integration possibilities. In addition, we consider requirements, limitations and potential conflicts, including financial requirements, permitting, conflicts with existing uses of space (e.g., fishing, vessel traffic), maintenance requirements and workforce capacity, and system reliability. At the same time, we recognize that considerations of this complexity and sensitivity cannot be fully assessed within a preliminary study.
We emphasize that any decisions involving wave energy or ocean resources following our analysis will be made by the Makah Tribal Council and in accordance with the sovereign interests of the Makah Tribe. The principal goal of this research is to provide information to support this decision-making, as well as establish a lasting relationship and a foundation of mutual literacy that can support future collaboration with the Makah Tribe. In addition, the outcomes of our research are useful in establishing knowledge for evaluating wave energy integration in similar contexts, including remote, Indigenous, and coastal communities.