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Commentaries and editorials

Crapo Reacts to Groups' Statement
on Upper Snake Water

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - November 14, 2003

Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo expressed disappointment this week following conservation groups' statement regarding legal action on Upper Snake River water for salmon and steelhead recovery.

" I'm disappointed that the plaintiffs are discussing the Upper Snake in Judge James Redden's court," Crapo said. "We take this threat to Idaho water and state water sovereignty very seriously. As long as the plaintiffs pursue a litigation strategy, we will be forced to aggressively defend Idaho's water and we will do just that."

Conservation groups say they will keep open the option of going to court to force the federal government to follow through on what they say are its legal obligations to recover Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead.

But the groups say they have pledged to Crapo and the farming community to unconditionally forgo the opportunity to ask any court to deliver Upper Snake River water in 2004 beyond the federal government's maximum goal of 427,000 acre-feet.

In October, Crapo asked Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, the National Wildlife Federation and other salmon advocates to defer any litigation on the Bureau of Reclamation's Upper Snake projects until mid-2004, so that talks on the issues surrounding those projects and salmon recovery could continue.

In a recent letter to the senator, the groups said they could not set aside the possibility of litigation because several parties involved in the Crapo talks -- including the State of Idaho, the federal government, the Nez Perce Tribe and some water users -- are already engaged in "secret negotiations" on some of the same key issues.

Those negotiations are taking place now within the Snake River Basin Adjudication, under the jurisdiction of an Idaho state court.

"We appreciate the senator's efforts to bring parties to the table to discuss salmon recovery, and we pledge to continue working with the senator and others to find common ground on salmon issues," said Bill Sedivy, Idaho Rivers United.

"However, a negotiation cannot work, or be fair, if some of the parties involved are working to resolve some of the same key issues in a separate, confidential forum. Moving forward under such conditions would be like trying to swim across the Snake River with your hands tied behind your back," Sedivy said.

"We greatly appreciate Sen. Crapo's leadership and we hope to continue working with him on efforts to restore wild Snake River salmon and steelhead and to bring back an important economic and cultural resource to Idaho," said Sedivy.

In recognition of Crapo's efforts, and in an attempt to provide Idaho irrigators with assurance about water availability while at the same time protecting Snake River salmon and steelhead during the 2004 migration, the groups unconditionally pledged to the senator that they will not seek more than 427,000 acre-feet of upper Snake water in the coming year.

"I'm particularly disappointed with this development in part because of the many face-to-face meetings we have had -- the first such meetings in Idaho history -- have clearly demonstrated that the negotiation process we've started can be productive," Crapo said this week. "For example, the plaintiffs' concession about the 2004 irrigation/smolt migration season is significant."

"The negotiation option must remain available and I stand ready to resume this important process when the time is right," Crapo said. "I note that the Idaho Water Coalition and the plaintiffs refer to the possibility of continuing negotiations at some point. I particularly appreciate the statement made by the Idaho Conservation League: 'We know the potential of what is possible if motivated and informed Idahoans sit down face-to-face and start talking to each other.'

"My other main frustration is that this legal action targeting Idaho water is misplaced. There must be continued effort and increased federal investment in habitat improvement, hatchery reforms, and harvest control. As to the main stem river, the best option is to operationally and structurally modify the downstream projects in a way that preserves their benefits while improving fish passage. I do not support breaching.

"Idahoans have clearly demonstrated that we are prepared to do our part to recover anadromous fish. Over the past decade, Idaho has contributed significant amounts of water to recovery efforts. However, when forced to defend our water in court, we must do so aggressively. Let me be clear. I am committed to protecting Idaho's water and will accept no outcome that jeopardizes it," Crapo said.

by CBB Staff
Crapo Reacts to Groups' Statement on Upper Snake Water
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 14, 2003

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