Crapo’s Closed Water Talks Continueby Gregory Hahn
Idaho Statesman - October 11, 2003
Environmentalists agree to hold off on lawsuit threat
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has convinced a group of environmentalists to hold off on a threat to sue farmers, cities and businesses to divert water to help restore wild salmon runs.
In an attempt to convince the conservation groups to stay out of the courts, Crapo has brought people from every related interest he could think of to a series of talks that, most recently, took up most of Thursday and Friday morning.
And the farmers, irrigators, ranchers, city leaders, environmentalists, conservationists and politicians at least agreed on one thing: To keep talking.
And here´s what they´re talking about: 3.5 million acres of farmland, bringing in about $2.9 billion a year. And they´re talking about the fish that led Lewis and Clark from what would become Idaho, along the Snake and Columbia rivers, to the Pacific Ocean.
But they´re talking behind closed doors — like the other major water debate going on between water users and the Nez Perce Tribe. The tribe claimed the rights, by seniority, to virtually the entire Snake River, and if the three-year mediation effort leads to an agreement, it could radically effect anything Crapo´s group decides as well.
Crapo said a mediation agreement would help, and he said speculation is growing that the closed discussions are about to finally prove fruitful.
Crapo said keeping the media and public out of his meetings has helped increase the candor of debate, and at least some of the participants agree.
“People are working very hard to understand each other´s perspectives,” said Justin Hayes , who has been representing the Idaho Conservation League in the talks.
An agreement may still take some time, but Hayes said the conservationists see hope for progress — hope enough to hold off on the lawsuit.
“We can´t say we´re never filing,” he said. “But we can´t say we´re filing next week.”
Idaho Water Users Association leader Norm Semanko said his allies are encouraged by the progress, but they´re still wary of having the lawsuit over their heads. They´d rather talk it through than see it go to court, he said.
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