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Lawsuit Demands Halt
to Columbia, Snake Diversions

by John Hughes, Associated Press
Spokesman Review, May 19, 2000

Activists Say Water Needed by Salmon Being Illegally Sent to Farmers

WASHINGTON-- Environmentalists will seek an injunction today that could shut down farming on thousands of acres in Idaho, Washington and Oregon -- a move aimed at increasing pressure to remove four Snake River dams.

The environmentalists argue in an injunction request to be filed in Portland that the Bureau of Reclamation is illegally diverting Snake and Columbia river water to farmers for irrigation. The water instead should be used to help threatened and endangered salmon, the green activists say.

They will ask U.S. District Judge Malcolm Marsh to halt the diversions.

A bureau spokeswoman in Boise said the agency has not seen the injunction request and could not comment on it. But she said she believes the bureau is not diverting any water illegally.

"We intend to answer all the allegations," Diana Cross said.

It was unclear how many acres of land would be affected if the injunction request is successful.

The environmentalists say that six bureau projects on the Snake River illegally diverted enough water to irrigate at least 35,000 acres of land, based on a 1994 Interior Department inspector general's report.

But the acreage affected could be much greater, because there are 32 bureau projects in the Columbia and Snake river basins, they say.

Turning off water to just 35,000 acres would likely force some farmers out of business, said Dan Goicoechea, spokesman for the Idaho Farm Bureau.

"Thirty-five thousand acres doesn't sound like much in the scheme of things, but if it was your family or my family ... it's a huge impact," he said. "You talk about destroying lives, destroying businesses."

Boosting stream flows cools water to a more fish-friendly temperature and makes it easier for salmon to go past dams as they traverse up and down the rivers.

The preliminary injunction attempt, if successful, would send more water down the rivers, but it would not be needed if the four dams in southeastern Washington state are breached, the environmentalists say.

Heather Weiner, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, contends the National Marine Fisheries Service's 1995 biological opinion -- and subsequent updates -- called on the bureau to increase Snake stream flows beyond the 427,000 acre feet of water currently released for salmon migrations.

But the bureau disputes that contention.

John Hughes, Associated Press
Lawsuit Demands Halt to Columbia, Snake Diversions
Spokesman Review, May 19, 2000

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