Groups May Sue for More Water from Damsby Steven Friederich, Journal Writer
Idaho State Journal, December 20, 2003
Supporters say higher flow will help downriver salmon survive
POCATELLO - Several salmon groups filed preliminary lawsuit paperwork against federal dam operators and agencies Friday.
The groups intend to free more water from the upper Snake River so salmon down the lower Snake and the Columbia rivers can survive, said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United.
But water users fear giving any more water to fish in drought conditions could destroy the area's large farm industry.
Environmental groups had initially filed their 60-day intent to sue last August, but were persuaded to withdraw the suit by U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, in order to have sit-down negotiations between him and water users. Water talks have since failed and last month the water users group filed its own 60-day intent to protect access to reservoir water.
"We're wiling to talk this through and we're disappointed that people keep seeking to litigate instead," said Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern.
The lawsuit comes after Thursday's decision by District Judge James Redden, of Portland, Ore., rejecting a motion to include all Snake River Basin water - including upstream flows all the way to Jackson Lake - in a revised biological opinion on salmon recovery requirements.
"I can only hope that the common sense Judge Redden showed will continue to carry the day," said U.S. Rep. C.L. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, in a prepared statement. "In the end, a more stable and secure Snake River Basin is in the best interest of salmon as well. It will mean the long-term work of improving conditions for fish runs won't be undermined by litigation based on an unproven all-or-nothing strategy."
Sedivy said a lawsuit would help reverse Redden's decision and ensure both the lower and upper Snake River is considered one in the same instead of as two different biological regions.
Groups that filed the lawsuit include Sedivy's Idaho Rivers United and environmental groups Earth Justice, American Rivers, National Wildlife Federation and fisheries groups the Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
Sedivy said the 60 days give a set deadline for their needs to be met - basically, to find a way to give some water to salmon downriver.
"We don't want all of the water," Sedivy said. "We know there's a drought going on."
It's a violation of the Endangered Species Act to not provide water to salmon downstream because salmon are an endangered species, Sedivy said.
Reached by phone Friday, Coalition for Idaho Water President Norm Semanko said he was unaware of the environmentalist's filing, but added he expected it.
"This is being driven mostly by national environmental groups and people mostly not from Idaho," Semanko said. "They're advocating for dam removal or flow augmentation and both will hurt Idaho."
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