Salmon Activists Hope
by Rocky Barker
Environmentalists prefer leases to pursuing lawsuits
Salmon advocates are hopeful they and federal officials will find enough farmers willing to lease their water this year that a lawsuit won´t force a cutoff of irrigation diversions.
But Pat Ford, executive director of Save our Wild Salmon, which includes groups suing federal agencies over Idaho reservoir water, would not rule out asking for such a cutoff of diversions to increase flows in the Snake River for salmon.
Ford´s comments came Wednesday in response to a question from Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director Norm Semanko during the Idaho Environmental Forum´s annual legislative forecast. The two were on a panel reviewing pending lawsuits and salmon issues. They were joined by Bill Sedivy from Idaho Rivers United; Sen. Mike Crapo´s chief of staff, John Hoehne; and Clive Strong, an assistant attorney general.
The National Wildlife Federation, American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United have sued the federal government calling for a new analysis of the effects of Snake River dams in Idaho on salmon recovery downstream. The suits as written could force the same kind of irrigation cutoffs that caused farmers to dry up fields in 2001 in the Klamath Basin in Oregon, Semanko said.
“Environmentalists want more water — substantially more water,” Semanko said.
But Sedivy said salmon advocates have committed to Crapo that they would not ask for more than 427,000 acre-feet of water from Idaho reservoirs this year. Sedivy said he is confident they will meet that goal: There´s plenty of snow in the mountains, and he´s lined up a number of farmers who will lease their water so it can be kept in the river to aid salmon migration.
Lost in the debate over Idaho water is the salmon advocates´ ultimate goal: to restore abundant, harvestable numbers of salmon to Idaho, which Ford said could create thousands of new jobs and help rural Idaho. Eventually, Hoehne said, the competing groups will return to a table set by Crapo for collaborative discussions.
Those discussions will inevitably include discussing the effects of four federal dams in Washington that a majority of fisheries biologists say must be breached if salmon are to be restored in abundance, he said. Just talking about the dams does not imply support for breaching, he said.
Strong said the current fight doesn´t help salmon and may force Idaho to stake out legal ground that hinders resolution of the issue.
“The litigation-winner-take-all solution is not going to get us where we want to be,” Strong said.
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