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Idaho Can Have Fish, Farms and Water

by Matthew Yost, ISSU
Times-News, July 18, 2006

Growing up on a farm north of Rupert, I often get questioned about the fight for salmon recovery. I explain that it was on the farm where I learned to fight to protect what is rightfully yours, the value of water, to hunt, fish and enjoy all of Idaho's natural resources.

Today, Idaho must start fighting for what is hers. The notion that Idaho water is an either-or proposition to be used for irrigation or for fish is false. Idaho has other choices, and pitting one against the other is an unnecessary and un-winnable battle.

Thirty years of fighting has been costly ($6 billion), making most weary of the issue. Why aren't Idaho leaders looking for new choices? Our rural communities need resolution to this seemingly endless debate. Idahoans have lost fish numbers, water, tax dollars and time. Who has benefited? Some attorneys have gotten rich and a politician or two has found a place to grandstand. But Idaho is no closer to having resolution or certainty.

Better political leadership must be demanded. Without it, Idaho will be left with only the promise of more litigation, dwindling fish runs and a lack of rural economic certainty. We must frame the debate ourselves. Idaho must realize that the dams in question are not in our state. These facilities, located in Washington state, are draining Idaho's water, not protecting it. They are not owned by Idaho Power. They are federal dams operated by the Bonneville Power Administration, which produces very little energy for Idaho. Idaho receives 36 megawatts from these Washington dams and 10 times that amount will be produced in Idaho over the next two years from new technology. The notion that "if they went away the power would go off" is baloney.

What do they do other than provide barging transportation to Portland? They create a New Orleans-style flood for Lewiston that will require the Corps of Engineers to build a levee 3 to 12 feet higher around the city, walling Lewiston off from the river and cause Dworshak to be operated completely opposite than it was intended.

The federal plan is a horrible business model. Idaho's return on investment for 10 million released smolt is poor, especially considering that we only get to fish elbow-to-elbow on less than 50 miles of river when not long ago we had thousands of miles of fishing.

Recently, the feds claimed that sport fishing and hatcheries were part of the problem. Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited has always supported a hatchery program and will continue to do so until wild stocks are on the mend. Idaho fish are some of the most unique ocean-run fish in the world. Our fish swim the farthest inland and climb to higher elevations than any other.

Those who pretend to be advocates of our fisheries should not be allowed to claim that in order to reach recovery we must stop fishing. Less than 10% of adult mortality is caused by fishing (including all tribal, commercial and sport fishing); 80-90 % juvenile mortality is caused during out-migration by the federal hydro system.

Idaho can have power, fish and farms. Americans can have resolution and certainty from Jerome to Juno, Alaska. But, it is going to take better political leadership. Idahoans must demand that the leadership start here in Idaho. The solutions are out there and we have to demand the political courage to implement them.

Set down your fishing rod and your siphon tubes and pick up the pen or the phone and let Idaho's leaders know that it is time for resolution and certainty.

Matthew Yost of Boise is the field director for Idaho Salmon and Steelhead Unlimited.
Idaho Can Have Fish, Farms and Water
Times-News, July 18, 2006

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