the film
Commentaries and editorials

Feds Will Have a Key Role
in Idaho's Water Dispute

by Editors
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, September 23, 2003

Water users and salmon advocates -- once at each otherīs throats over Idaho water -- are now willing to talk to each other.

Thatīs good, as far as it goes. But it only goes so far.

The best the sides can do, really, is work on the short term -- come up with some agreement to release water in 2004 to help Idaho salmon migrate to the ocean.

Thatīs not a long-term agreement, a systematic strategy to save Idaho salmon. Irrigators and environmentalists canīt solve this on their own; federal agencies need to help out, too.

Keep that in mind when Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, gets the various players together to talk about about their differences over Idaho salmon and Idaho water. Much as weīd love to see Idahoans solve this issue, we know theyīre not going to do it in a vacuum.

Crapo has brought the issue a long way. He has convinced environmental groups to put aside a pending and divisive lawsuit against the federal government. The groups were looking to get more water for fish through the courts; irrigators, in turn, accused environmentalists of wanting to dry up southern Idaho farmland.

The suit is on hold for another three weeks or so. But these negotiations are going to take time. Environmentalists shouldnīt be in a rush to take this fight to court, where no one will win.

Thereīs too much to sort out in three weeks:

This isnīt an issue where one side is right and one side is wrong. Irrigators want to protect a $3.5 billion agricultural economy. Salmon advocates say the 2001 salmon fishing season was worth nearly $90 million, with much of the money spent in small towns such as Riggins; they want this industry to thrive and grow.

Painting this as an us-vs.-them fight is unfair to both sides.

Environmental groups took a positive step by putting aside the lawsuit. Norm Semanko, the leader of a coalition of water groups, correctly called it an act of good faith.

Itīs only a start. The federal agencies have to do their share. They have to listen to critics and commit to the fish. The uneasy truce between irrigators and salmon advocates wonīt solve long-term issues-- and will be tested every time the water runs short.

Feds Will Have a Key Role in Idaho's Water Dispute
STRONG>The Idaho Statesman, September 23, 2003

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