by Rep. Mike Simpson
U.S. House Representative Simpson has cast the effort as a bid to shape the region's future,
instead of having it shaped by an inertia that is killing the fish.
Speaker Scott Bedke's recent comments and questions about my concept to end the Northwest salmon, dam and energy wars caught my attention. As a former Speaker of the Idaho House, I have great respect for Speaker Bedke. No one agrees with each other 100% of the time, but I count Scott as a friend, and I agree that he is an expert in water policy.
"Scott is correct, the concept I have put out for discussion has the potential to fundamentally change the very economy upon which Idaho producers depend. It can provide the certainty and security from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other environmental lawsuits that producers have told me they need. My concept makes possible:
Scott also raised a question about the 487,000-acre feet of water that leaves Idaho every year under the ESA biological opinion and asked if powerful interests downstream will demand additional water if breaching is unsuccessful.
The Speaker's statement confuses me a bit, he is right, we do flush 487,000-acre feet of water down the river for salmon to help get them through these four Washington dams. If these four dams are breached, we might not have to flush that water for salmon anymore and could instead keep it for Idaho agriculture and recharge.
It would be easy to do nothing, to stay the course and not have difficult conversations. It is very easy to tell people that ideas like mine are pure madness and assume that no judge or future administration will ever change the operations of the Lower Snake River dams. People told the timber families and Klamath producers the same, 'if you just fight, you can beat the ESA and judges.' They were wrong. In the Klamath Basin, after litigation and appeals, those four dams will be removed by 2024. However, those stakeholders in Klamath will not be made whole like ours would under my concept. One of my greatest fears is that a liberal judge or administration will break the status quo and force change in Lower Snake River operations without warning, leaving our producers and communities with nothing to compensate them for those changes.
I appreciate that Speaker Bedke recognized this is a proposal. I am actively seeking feedback and discussion. I do not have a 1,000-page bill drafted, vetted and ready to introduce.
A discussion must start somewhere, and in the last three years my staff and I have held over 300 stakeholder meetings, including stakeholders in Idaho. Unfortunately, Speaker Bedke couldn't make the meeting my staff had scheduled with him before the concept was released. But Scott, my door is always open -- to you or anyone else who is willing to come to the table. I recognize how valuable the dams are, and their benefits must be replaced if they are to be removed. My bottom line is simple -- create certainty for producers, end the lawsuits, and give Idaho salmon a chance."
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