Coalition Adds Members Over Snake River Issueby Patricia R. McCoy, Idaho Staff writer
Capital Press, October 31, 2003
The Coalition for Idaho Water nearly doubled its membership in recent weeks as it continues striving to halt a proposed lawsuit the coalition contends could potentially dry up much of Southern Idaho.
Previously an alliance of 20 Idaho interest groups ranging from irrigation companies to municipalities, the coalition has gained 15 new members, said Norm Semanko, executive director and general counsel for the Idaho Water Users Association, and coalition spokesman.
The new members announced by Semanko on Oct. 23 include the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state's largest business coalition; the Port of Lewiston, the Idaho Irrigation Equipment Association, the joint natural resources committee of the Lewiston-Clarkston Chambers of Commerce, Amalgamated Sugar Co., the Idaho Bean Commission, food Producers of Idaho, the Idaho State Grange, the Idaho Weed Control Association, the Nez Perce Prairie Grass Growers Association, the Wilder Farm Labor Committee, the Idaho Alfalfa and Clover Seed Growers Association, and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association.
"Its particularly encouraging to see associations of local governments from all over Idaho recognize the severe economic threat posed by recent warnings of lawsuits that could dry up two million acres of Southern Idaho farmland," Semanko said.
"These officials struggle daily, especially in these times, with budget shortfalls that threaten their ability to continue to provide basic services to their citizens," Semanko said. "They don't need any more severe cutbacks in their tax bases."
When breaching the dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers was contemplated, citizens demonstrated in favor of the dams, Semanko said.
"They knew that this part of the country is naturally arid," Semanko said. "They understand that water must be conserved if we are ever to have a sustainable economy.
"Too many people today have lost sight of that vision," Semanko continued. "We can't destroy the system that gave our region its life, and our people their livelihoods."
The coalition, formed some time ago when other issues made water a major dormant until September. That's when a group of environmental organizations filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. Signers wanted steps taken to ensure that the Upper Snake River projects were operated to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
The plaintiffs in the proposed lawsuit were the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, the National Wildlife Federation, represented by Advocates for the West, a Boise-based law firm, and EarthJustice.
Dry Up Idaho
Semanko called the coalition into action, saying the potential lawsuit could stop all delivery of irrigation water in Southern Idaho in 2004. It could also end kayaking and rafting on Idaho's rivers once the annual spring runoff ends in June or July. The end result would repeat the Klamath Basin scenario in Southern Idaho, but o a far larger scale, he said.
Idaho's congressional delegation also waded into the fray. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, called all parties together in closed door negotiating sessions, urging them to find a workable solution to meet everyone's needs outside the courtroom.
Environmentalists temporarily withdrew their 60-day notice. Two sessions of closed-door talks were held, with parties on all sides of the issue participating. Since that time, participants have met separately, discussing issues and bargaining positions among themselves. More talks of the total body may be held in the future, but none have yet been announced, Semanko said.
In a related development, the coalition reacted angrily to a letter sent in mid-October to President George W. Bush by some 120 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The letter collide on the president to consider partial removal of the four Lower Snake dams in Washington, and acquiring significant additional water for flow augmentation from Idaho and Canada, Semanko said.
"This is obviously part of an orchestrated attempt by the environmental groups to target Idaho water in a vain attempt to put pressure on us to support dam removal," he said.
If the environmentalists who sent the notice of intent to sue leave the negotiating table and file litigation, "they will make it clear that they have no regard for the economic wellbeing of the State of Idaho or the thousands of Idaho families whose livelihoods are dependent on water for irrigation and other needs," Semanko said. "If this letter from the liberal, largely Eastern block of congressmen is any indication of the environmentalists' intentions, we are in for quite a fight."
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