Judge: Idaho Plan Violates
by Hal Bernton
PORTLAND -- In a ruling that reaches deep into Northwest farm country, a federal judge on Tuesday found that a salmon-management plan for a network of Idaho irrigation and water-storage dams violates the Endangered Species Act.
Judge James Redden found that the current plan for the upper Snake River drainage is "arbitrary and capricious," and involves a "fatally flawed" analysis that must be reworked.
That plan calls for the release of water to aid salmon in downstream migration. But Redden noted in his ruling that the federal Bureau of Reclamation admits that "there is only a 50/50 chance" that it will be able to provide the full amounts of water outlined in a 2004 plan.
The ruling was a victory for conservation and fishery groups that are seeking broader actions to save threatened and endangered Snake River salmon runs.
The groups have advocated the removal of four lower Snake River dams used primarily for hydroelectric production. But so long as those dams stay in place, they have pushed for larger releases of stored upstream waters to help push young salmon through the slack-water pools behind these dams.
"There are two ways you can recover healthy numbers of Snake River salmon," said Michael Garrity of American Rivers, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "One is provide a free-flowing river, the other is to provide more water ... to help the salmon move through the reservoirs."
The water stored in those reservoirs is crucial to agriculture, which relies on irrigation to coax potatoes and other high-value crops from the arid lands of southern Idaho.
Bill McDonald, a regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation, noted that the judge, while calling for a new analysis, made no specific finding that the current water flows for salmon from the upper Snake were inadequate. He said that the dams, and the irrigation water they provide, are a major part of the agricultural economy in southern Idaho.
In earlier decisions, Redden has ordered the federal government to rework salmon-management plans for the network of hydroelectric dams along the Columbia and lower Snake rivers.
Plaintiffs in the suit include American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, National Wildlife Federation and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
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